Amyloid Designed to Inactivate Cancer-Related Protein

Researchers build a peptide that causes a receptor to form toxic, amyloid-like clumps in cells.

Nov 14, 2016
Kerry Grens

VEGFR2 bound by axitinibWIKIMEDIA, FUSE809Scientists have designed a peptide that homes in on an amyloid-vulnerable region of a protein involved in cancer, causing the molecule to aggregate and deactivate. The resulting protein clumps were toxic to cells—but only those that rely on the protein’s activity. The team published its findings in Science last week (November 11).

“Although we don’t yet know if functional amyloids could be used in humans for therapeutic applications, the potential for novel drugs is huge,” study coauthor Joost Schymkowitz of the University of Leuven, Belgium, said in a press release. “Our team will now spend the coming years trying to turn this into direct benefits for patients.”

With its designer peptide, called vascin, Schymkowitz’s group targeted vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR2)—specifically, an “amyloidogenic sequence” within the protein. Although VEGFR2 doesn’t normally form amyloids, the designer peptide’s interaction with this vulnerable region caused VEGFR2 to snarl.

“We found vascin only to be toxic to cells that are dependent on VEGFR2 function, suggesting that toxicity is due to loss of VEGFR2 function and not to vascin aggregation or vascin-induced VEGFR2 aggregation,” Schymkowitz and his colleagues wrote in their report.

Speaking with STAT News, Schymkowitz said amyloid-inducing peptides could be deployed for combatting various diseases. “Because these principles apply to virtually any protein, our approach may not only be useful in developing future cancer therapies, but also in treating drug-resistant infections.”