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Light-driven post-translational installation of reactive protein side chains

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Akane Kawamura



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Nature Research, 2020.

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Post-translational modifications (PTMs) greatly expand the structures and functions of proteins in nature. Although synthetic protein functionalization strategies allow mimicry of PTMs, as well as formation of unnatural protein variants with diverse potential functions, including drug carrying, tracking, imaging and partner crosslinking, the range of functional groups that can be introduced remains limited. Here we describe the visible-light-driven installation of side chains at dehydroalanine residues in proteins through the formation of carbon-centred radicals that allow C–C bond formation in water. Control of the reaction redox allows site-selective modification with good conversions and reduced protein damage. In situ generation of boronic acid catechol ester derivatives generates RH2C radicals that form the native (β-CH2–γ-CH2) linkage of natural residues and PTMs, whereas in situ potentiation of pyridylsulfonyl derivatives by Fe(II) generates RF2C radicals that form equivalent β-CH2–γ-CF2linkages bearing difluoromethylene labels. These reactions are chemically tolerant and incorporate a wide range of functionalities (more than 50 unique residues/side chains) into diverse protein scaffolds and sites. Initiation can be applied chemoselectively in the presence of sensitive groups in the radical precursors, enabling installation of previously incompatible side chains. The resulting protein function and reactivity are used to install radical precursors for homolytic on-protein radical generation; to study enzyme function with natural, unnatural and CF2-labelled post-translationally modified protein substrates via simultaneous sensing of both chemo- and stereoselectivity; and to create generalized ‘alkylator proteins’ with a spectrum of heterolytic covalent-bond-forming activity (that is, reacting diversely with small molecules at one extreme or selectively with protein targets through good mimicry at the other). Post-translational access to such reactions and chemical groups on proteins could be useful in both revealing and creating protein function.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Josephson B, Fehl C, Isenegger PG, Nadal S, Wright TH, Poh AWJ, Bower BJ, Giltrap AM, Chen L, Batchelor-McAuley C, Roper G, Arisa O, Sap JBI, Kawamura A, Baldwin AJ, Mohammed S, Compton RG, Gouverneur V, Davis BG

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2020

Volume: 585

Pages: 530-537

Print publication date: 24/09/2020

Online publication date: 23/09/2020

Acceptance date: 15/07/2020

Date deposited: 29/11/2020

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687

Publisher: Nature Research


DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2733-7


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