Genetic screening technologies to identify and validate macromolecular interactions (MMIs) essential for complex pathways remain an important unmet need for systems biology and therapeutics development. Here, we use a library of peptides from diverse prokaryal genomes to screen MMIs promoting the nuclear relocalization of Forkhead Box O3 (FOXO3a), a tumor suppressor more frequently inactivated by post-translational modification than mutation. A hit peptide engages the 14-3-3 family of signal regulators through a phosphorylation-dependent interaction, modulates FOXO3a-mediated transcription, and suppresses cancer cell growth. In a crystal structure, the hit peptide occupies the phosphopeptide-binding groove of 14-3-3ε in a conformation distinct from its natural peptide substrates. A biophysical screen identifies drug-like small molecules that displace the hit peptide from 14-3-3ε, providing starting points for structure-guided development. Our findings exemplify "protein interference," an approach using evolutionarily diverse, natural peptides to rapidly identify, validate, and develop chemical probes against MMIs essential for complex cellular phenotypes.
Keywords: 14-3-3; FOXO3a; bioactive peptide; lead discovery; phenotypic screening; prokaryal genomes; protein interference; protein-protein interaction; target identification; target validation.
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