Molecular ON-switches in which a chemical compound induces protein-protein interactions can allow cellular function to be controlled with small molecules. ON-switches based on clinically applicable compounds and human proteins would greatly facilitate their therapeutic use. Here, we developed an ON-switch system in which the human retinol binding protein 4 (hRBP4) of the lipocalin family interacts with engineered hRBP4 binders in a small molecule-dependent manner. Two different protein scaffolds were engineered to bind to hRBP4 when loaded with the orally available small molecule A1120. The crystal structure of an assembled ON-switch shows that the engineered binder specifically recognizes the conformational changes induced by A1120 in two loop regions of hRBP4. We demonstrate that this conformation-specific ON-switch is highly dependent on the presence of A1120, as demonstrated by an ∼500-fold increase in affinity upon addition of the small molecule drug. Furthermore, the ON-switch successfully regulated the activity of primary human CAR T cells in vitro. We anticipate that lipocalin-based ON-switches have the potential to be broadly applied for the safe pharmacological control of cellular therapeutics.
Keywords: CAR T cell; CID; alternative scaffold; lipocalin; protein engineering.
Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.