Effect of linker and spacer on the design of a fibronectin-mimetic peptide evaluated via cell studies and AFM adhesion forces

Jennifer A. Craig, Emilie L. Rexeisen, Anastasia Mardilovich, Kamlesh Shroff, Efie Kokkoli

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The design of a fibronectin-mimetic peptide that specifically binds to the α5β1 integrin has been widely studied because of this integrin's participation in many physiological and pathological processes. A promising design for such a peptide includes both the primary binding site RGD and the synergy site PHSRN connected by a linker and extended off of a surface by a spacer. Our original hypothesis was that the degree of hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity between the two sequences (RGD and PHSRN) in fibronectin is an important parameter in designing a fibronectin-mimetic peptide (Mardilovich, A.; Kokkoli, E. Biomacromolecules 2004,5,950-957). A peptide-amphiphile, PR_b, that was previously designed in our laboratory employed a hydrophobic tail connected to the N terminus of a peptide headgroup that was composed of a spacer, the synergy site sequence, a linker mimicking both the distance and hydrophobicity/ hydrophilicity present in the native protein fibronectin (thus presenting an overall "neutral" linker), and finally the primary binding sequence. Even though our previous work (Mardilovich, A.; Craig, J. A.; McCammon, M. Q.; Garg, A.; Kokkoli, E. Langmuir 2006, 22, 3259-3264) demonstrated that PR_b is a promising sequence compared to fibronectin, this is the first study that tests our hypothesis by comparing PR_b to other peptides with hydrophobic or hydrophilic linkers. Furthermore, different peptide-amphiphiles were designed that could be used to study the effect of building blocks systematically, such as the peptide headgroup linker length and hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity as well as the headgroup spacer length on integrin adhesion. Circular dichroism spectroscopy was first employed, and the collected spectra demonstrated that only one peptide-amphiphile exhibited a secondary structure. Their surface topography was evaluated by taking atomic force microscopy (AFM) images of Langmuir-Blodgett peptide-amphiphile membranes supported on mica. Their adhesion was first evaluated with AFM force measurements between the different sequences and an AFM tip functionalized with purified integrins. The amphiphiles were further characterized via 1-12 h cell studies that examined human umbilical vein endothelial cell adhesion and extracellular matrix fibronectin production. The AFM studies were in good agreement with the cell studies. Overall, the adhesion studies validated our hypothesis and demonstrated for the first time that a "neutral" linker, which more closely mimics the cell adhesion domain of fibronectin, supports higher levels of adhesion compared to other peptide designs with a hydrophobic or hydrophilic linker or even fibronectin. Neutral linker lengths that were within the distance found between PHSRN and RGD in fibronectin performed equally well. However, the 10 amino acid neutral linker gave slightly better cell adhesion than did the control fibronectin at all times. Also, a short spacer was shown to give higher adhesion than other sequences with no spacer or a longer spacer, suggesting that a short spacer is necessary to extend the sequence further away from the interface. In conclusion, this work outlines a logical approach that can be applied for the rational design of any protein-mimetic peptide with two binding sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10282-10292
Number of pages11
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 16 2008


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