The collagen-like tail of asymmetric acetylcholinesterase (AChE) contains two heparin-binding domains (HBDs) that interact with heparan sulphate proteoglycans, determining the anchoring of the enzyme at the basal lamina and its specific localization at the neuromuscular junction. Both HBDs are characterized by a cluster of basic residues containing a core with the BBXB consensus sequence (where B represents a basic residue and X a non-basic residue). To study the interaction of such HBDs with heparin we have used synthetic peptides to model the N-terminal and C-terminal sites. CD spectroscopy showed that all peptides are triple-helical at low temperatures, and undergo trimer-to-monomer transitions. Displacement assays of asymmetric AChE bound to heparin were performed using the peptides in both monomeric and triple-helical states. In the monomeric conformation, all the peptides were able to displace low levels of AChE depending on the basic charge content. In the triple-helical conformation, peptides containing the consensus sequence showed a large increase in the ability to displace bound AChE. Results suggest that the specific binding of the collagen-like-tail peptides to heparin depends both on the presence of the core sequence and on the triple-helical conformation. Moreover, BBXB-containing peptides that are less stable are more effective in displacing AChE, suggesting that the interaction region needs a significant amount of structural flexibility to better accommodate the ligand.

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