New protein engineering tool could lead to anthrax antitoxin

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed a new protein engineering technique that could be used to create proteins to fight toxins and pathogens, according to a study recently published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Ravi Kane, the study's leader, and his team designed the new approach to control the molecular properties of protein therapeutics that inhibit the deadliness and potency of anthrax toxin. The inhibitors block certain binding sites on anthrax toxin and prevent toxic enzymes from entering target cells.

Anthrax toxin, which is secreted by Bacillus anthracis, is made of proteins and toxic enzymes that bind together to damage a host organism. The toxin continues to spread and do damage even in the presence of antibiotics.

Kane and his colleagues used protein and genetic engineering techniques to create the inhibitors. The process allowed them to systematically control the properties of the proteins, such as ligand spacing and valency.

"To really understand how these inhibitor molecules work, we need to be able to control valency independent of spacing, and end up with inhibitors that are molecularly uniform," Kane said. "We can now systematically control all of these properties, and tune them in order to influence the activity of the inhibitor molecules."

Kane said the work could be broadly applied to the inhibition of toxins and pathogens. His team is currently looking at how to use the technique to create inhibitors for HIV.

The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health.

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