Synthetic peptides patterned after the proteins involved in vesicle fusion [the so-called SNARE (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion protein attachment protein receptor) proteins] are potent inhibitors of SNARE complex assembly and neuronal exocytosis. It is noteworthy that the identification of peptide sequences not related to the SNARE proteins has not been accomplished yet; this is due, in part, to the structural constraints and the specificity of the protein interactions that govern the formation of the SNARE complex. Here we have addressed this question and used a combinatorial approach to identify peptides that modulate the assembly of the SNARE core complex and inhibit neuronal exocytosis. An α-helix-constrained, mixture-based, 17-mer combinatorial peptide library composed of 137180 sequences was synthesized in a positional scanning format. Peptide mixtures were assayed for their ability to prevent the formation of the in vitro-reconstituted SDS-resistant SNARE core complex. Library deconvolution identified eight peptides that inhibited the assembly of the SNARE core complex. Notably, the most potent 17-mer peptide (acetyl-SAAEAFAKLYAEAFAKG-NH2) abolished both Ca2+-evoked catecholamine secretion from detergent-permeabilized chromaffin cells and l-glutamate release from intact hippocampal primary cultures. Collectively, these findings indicate that amino acid sequences that prevent SNARE complex formation are not restricted to those that mimic domains of SNARE proteins, thus expanding the diversity of molecules that target neuronal exocytosis. Because of the implication of neurosecretion in the aetiology of several human neurological disorders, these newly identified peptides may be considered hits for the development of novel anti-spasmodic drugs.

Abbreviations used: Ac, acetyl; BSS, basic saline solution; OG, octyl β-d-glucopyranoside; SNAP25, synaptosomal-associated protein of 25 kDa; SNARE, soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion protein attachment protein receptor; VAMP, vesicle-associated membrane protein (synaptobrevin); [O6O9O10O14], shortened peptide nomenclature referring to the amino acids preferred at the combinatorialized positions of the 17-mer (e.g. Ac-SAAEAFAKLYAEAFAKG-NH2 is referred to as [F6L9Y10F14]).

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