Inhibition of FOXP3 by stapled alpha-helical peptides dampens regulatory T cell function

Katrina M. Hawley, Rachel J. Eclov, Mathew R. Schnorenberg, Yu Tian, Rhea N. Shah, Anika T. Thomas-Toth, Marie Fefferman, Gregory H. Bird, Loren D. Walensky, Matthew V. Tirrell, James L. LaBelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Despite continuing advances in the development of novel cellular-, antibody-, and chemotherapeutic-based strategies to enhance immune reactivity, the presence of regulatory T cells (Treg cells) remains a complicating factor for their clinical efficacy. To overcome dosing limitations and off-target effects from antibody-based Treg cell deletional strategies or small molecule drugging, we investigated the ability of hydrocarbon stapled alpha-helical (SAH) peptides to target FOXP3, the master transcription factor regulator of Treg cell development, maintenance, and suppressive function. Using the crystal structure of the FOXP3 homodimer as a guide, we developed SAHs in the likeness of a portion of the native FOXP3 antiparallel coiled-coil homodimerization domain (SAH-FOXP3) to block this key FOXP3 protein-protein interaction (PPI) through molecular mimicry. We describe the design, synthesis, and biochemical evaluation of single- and double-stapled SAHs covering the entire coiled-coil expanse. We show that lead SAH-FOXP3s bind FOXP3, are cell permeable and nontoxic to T cells, induce dose-dependent transcript and protein level alterations of FOXP3 target genes, impede Treg cell function, and lead to Treg cell gene expression changes in vivo consistent with FOXP3 dysfunction. These results demonstrate a proof of concept for rationally designed FOXP3-directed peptide therapeutics that could be used as approaches to amplify endogenous immune responsiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2209044119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 18 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.


  • FOXP3
  • coiled-coil domain
  • inhibitor
  • stapled peptide


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