We describe concepts and methodologies for generating "Affinity Clamps," a new class of recombinant binding proteins that achieve high affinity and high specificity toward short peptide motifs of biological importance, which is a major challenge in protein engineering. The Affinity Clamping concept exploits the potential of nonhomologous recombination of protein domains in generating large changes in protein function and the inherent binding affinity and specificity of the so-called modular interaction domains toward short peptide motifs. Affinity Clamping creates a clamshell architecture that clamps onto a target peptide. The design processes involve (i) choosing a starting modular interaction domain appropriate for the target and applying structure-guided modifications; (ii) attaching a second domain, termed "enhancer domain"; and (iii) optimizing the peptide-binding site located between the domains by directed evolution. The two connected domains work synergistically to achieve high levels of affinity and specificity that are unattainable with either domain alone. Because of the simple and modular architecture, Affinity Clamps are particularly well suited as building blocks for designing more complex functionalities. Affinity Clamping represents a major advance in protein design that is broadly applicable to the recognition of peptide motifs.
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