Neutralizing antibodies often recognize conformational, discontinuous epitopes. Linear peptides mimicking such conformational epitopes can be selected from phage display peptide libraries by screening with the respective antibodies. However, it is difficult to localize these "mimotopes" within the three-dimensional (3D) structures of the target proteins. Knowledge of conformational epitopes of neutralizing antibodies would help to design antigens able to elicit protective immune responses. Therefore, we provide here a software that allows to localize linear peptide sequences within 3D structures of proteins. The 3D-Epitope-Explorer (3DEX) software allows to map conformational epitopes in 3D protein structures based on an algorithm that takes into account the physicochemical neighborhood of C(alpha)- or C(beta)-atoms of individual amino acids. A given amino acid of a peptide sequence is localized within the protein and the software searches within predefined distances for the amino acids neighboring that amino acid in the peptide. Surface exposure of the amino acids can also be taken into consideration. The procedure is then repeated for the remaining amino acids of the peptide. The introduction of a joker function allows to map peptide mimotopes, which do not necessarily have 100% sequence homology to the protein. Using this software we were able to localize mimotopes selected from phage displayed peptide libraries with polyclonal antibodies from HIV-positive patient plasma within the 3D structure of gp120, the exterior glycoprotein of HIV-1. We also analyzed two recently published peptide sequences corresponding to known conformational epitopes to further confirm the integrity of 3DEX.
(c) 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.