5 years ago

Determination of the Membrane Translocation pK of the pH-Low Insertion Peptide

Determination of the Membrane Translocation pK of the pH-Low Insertion Peptide
Justin M. Westerfield, Haden L. Scott, Francisco N. Barrera


The pH-low insertion peptide (pHLIP) is a leading peptide technology to target the extracellular acidosis that characterizes solid tumors. The pHLIP binds to lipid membranes, and responds to acidification by undergoing a coupled folding/membrane insertion process. In the final transmembrane state, the C terminus of pHLIP gets exposed to the cytoplasm of the target cell, providing a means to translocate membrane-impermeable drug cargoes across the plasma membrane of cancer cells. There exists a need to develop improved pHLIP variants to target tumors with greater efficiency. Characterization of such variants typically relies on determining the pK parameter, the pH midpoint of peptide insertion into the lipid bilayer. Here we report that the value of the pK can be strongly dependent on the method used for its determination. Membrane insertion of pHLIP involves at least four intermediate states, which are believed to be linked to the staggered titration of key acidic residues. We propose that some spectroscopic methods are influenced more heavily by specific membrane folding intermediates, and as a result yield different pK values. To address this potential problem, we have devised an assay to independently monitor the environment of the two termini of pHLIP. This approach provides insights into the conformation pHLIP adopts immediately before the establishment of the transmembrane configuration. Additionally, our data indicate that the membrane translocation of the C terminus of pHLIP, the folding step more directly relevant to drug delivery, occurs at more acidic pH values than previously considered. Consequently, such a pK difference could have substantial ramifications for assessing the translocation of drug cargoes conjugated to pHLIP.

Publisher URL: http://www.cell.com/biophysj/fulltext/S0006-3495(17)30753-1

DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2017.06.065

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