Small Scaffolds, Big Potential: Developing Miniature Proteins as Therapeutic Agents

Drug Dev Res. 2017 Sep;78(6):268-282. doi: 10.1002/ddr.21408. Epub 2017 Aug 10.


Preclinical Research Miniature proteins are a class of oligopeptide characterized by their short sequence lengths and ability to adopt well-folded, three-dimensional structures. Because of their biomimetic nature and synthetic tractability, miniature proteins have been used to study a range of biochemical processes including fast protein folding, signal transduction, catalysis and molecular transport. Recently, miniature proteins have been gaining traction as potential therapeutic agents because their small size and ability to fold into defined tertiary structures facilitates their development as protein-based drugs. This research overview discusses emerging developments involving the use of miniature proteins as scaffolds to design novel therapeutics for the treatment and study of human disease. Specifically, this review will explore strategies to: (i) stabilize miniature protein tertiary structure; (ii) optimize biomolecular recognition by grafting functional epitopes onto miniature protein scaffolds; and (iii) enhance cytosolic delivery of miniature proteins through the use of cationic motifs that facilitate endosomal escape. These objectives are discussed not only to address challenges in developing effective miniature protein-based drugs, but also to highlight the tremendous potential miniature proteins hold for combating and understanding human disease. Drug Dev Res 78 : 268-282, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: miniature protein; protein grafting; protein scaffold; protein-based therapeutics; tertiary structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Mimicry
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Miniaturization
  • Models, Molecular
  • Oligopeptides / chemistry*
  • Protein Stability
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Proteins / chemistry*


  • Oligopeptides
  • Proteins