Viral homologs of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins are highly diverged from their mammalian counterparts, yet they perform overlapping functions by binding and inhibiting BH3 (Bcl-2 homology 3)-motif-containing proteins. We investigated the BH3 binding properties of the herpesvirus Bcl-2 homologs KSBcl-2, BHRF1, and M11, as they relate to those of the human Bcl-2 homologs Mcl-1, Bfl-1, Bcl-w, Bcl-xL, and Bcl-2. Analysis of the sequence and structure of the BH3 binding grooves showed that, despite low sequence identity, M11 has structural similarities to Bcl-xL, Bcl-2, and Bcl-w. BHRF1 and KSBcl-2 are more structurally similar to Mcl-1 than to the other human proteins. Binding to human BH3-like peptides showed that KSBcl-2 has similar specificity to Mcl-1, and BHRF1 has a restricted binding profile; M11 binding preferences are distinct from those of Bcl-xL, Bcl-2, and Bcl-w. Because KSBcl-2 and BHRF1 are from human herpesviruses associated with malignancies, we screened computationally designed BH3 peptide libraries using bacterial surface display to identify selective binders of KSBcl-2 or BHRF1. The resulting peptides bound to KSBcl-2 and BHRF1 in preference to Bfl-1, Bcl-w, Bcl-xL, and Bcl-2 but showed only modest specificity over Mcl-1. Rational mutagenesis increased specificity against Mcl-1, resulting in a peptide with a dissociation constant of 2.9nM for binding to KSBcl-2 and >1000-fold specificity over other Bcl-2 proteins, as well as a peptide with >70-fold specificity for BHRF1. In addition to providing new insights into viral Bcl-2 binding specificity, this study will inform future work analyzing the interaction properties of homologous binding domains and designing specific protein interaction partners.
Keywords: BH3 peptides; BHRF1; KSBcl-2; bacterial surface display; peptide design.
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