Proteins that engage in intracellular interactions with other proteins are widely considered among the most biologically appealing yet chemically intractable targets for drug discovery. The critical interaction surfaces of these proteins typically lack the deep hydrophobic involutions that enable potent, selective targeting by small organic molecules, and their localization within the cell puts them beyond the reach of protein therapeutics. Considerable interest has therefore arisen in next-generation targeting molecules that combine the broad target recognition capabilities of protein therapeutics with the robust cell-penetrating ability of small molecules. One type that has shown promise in early-stage studies is hydrocarbon-stapled α-helical peptides, a novel class of synthetic miniproteins locked into their bioactive α-helical fold through the site-specific introduction of a chemical brace, an all-hydrocarbon staple. Stapling can greatly improve the pharmacologic performance of peptides, increasing their target affinity, proteolytic resistance, and serum half-life while conferring on them high levels of cell penetration through endocytic vesicle trafficking. Here, we discuss considerations crucial to the successful design and evaluation of potent stapled peptide interactions, our intention being to facilitate the broad application of this technology to intractable targets of both basic biologic interest and potential therapeutic value.
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