A new peptide trypsin inhibitor named BWI-2c was obtained from buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) seeds by sequential affinity, ion exchange and reversed-phase chromatography. The peptide was sequenced and found to contain 41 amino acid residues, with four cysteine residues involved in two intramolecular disulfide bonds. Recombinant BWI-2c identical to the natural peptide was produced in Escherichia coli in a form of a cleavable fusion with thioredoxin. The 3D (three-dimensional) structure of the peptide in solution was determined by NMR spectroscopy, revealing two antiparallel α-helices stapled by disulfide bonds. Together with VhTI, a trypsin inhibitor from veronica (Veronica hederifolia), BWI-2c represents a new family of protease inhibitors with an unusual α-helical hairpin fold. The linker sequence between the helices represents the so-called trypsin inhibitory loop responsible for direct binding to the active site of the enzyme that cleaves BWI-2c at the functionally important residue Arg19. The inhibition constant was determined for BWI-2c against trypsin (1.7×10−10 M), and the peptide was tested on other enzymes, including those from various insect digestive systems, revealing high selectivity to trypsin-like proteases. Structural similarity shared by BWI-2c, VhTI and several other plant defence peptides leads to the acknowledgement of a new widespread family of plant peptides termed α-hairpinins.

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