The tumour necrosis factor-like weak inducer of apoptosis (TWEAK) is a member of the tumour necrosis factor ligand family and has been shown to be overexpressed in tumoral cells together with the fibroblast growth factor-inducible 14 (Fn14) receptor. TWEAK-Fn14 interaction triggers a set of intracellular pathways responsible for tumour cell invasion and migration, as well as proliferation and angiogenesis. Hence, modulation of the TWEAK-Fn14 interaction is an important therapeutic goal. The targeting of protein-protein interactions by external agents, e.g., drugs, remains a substantial challenge. Given their intrinsic features, as well as recent advances that improve their pharmacological profiles, peptides have arisen as promising agents in this regard. Here, we report, by in silico structural design validated by cell-based and in vitro assays, the discovery of four peptides able to target TWEAK. Our results show that, when added to TWEAK-dependent cellular cultures, peptides cause a down-regulation of genes that are part of TWEAK-Fn14 signalling pathway. The direct, physical interaction between the peptides and TWEAK was further elucidated in an in vitro assay which confirmed that the bioactivity shown in cell-based assays was due to the targeting of TWEAK. The results presented here are framed within early pre-clinical drug development and therefore these peptide hits represent a starting point for the development of novel therapeutic agents. Our approach exemplifies the powerful combination of in silico and experimental efforts to quickly identify peptides with desirable traits.
Keywords: TWEAK; expression microarrays; orthosteric peptides; peptide design; protein-protein interactions; surface plasmon resonance.