Directed Evolution of Canonical Loops and Their Swapping between Unrelated Serine Proteinase Inhibitors Disprove the Interscaffolding Additivity Model

Eszter Boros, Fanni Sebák, Dávid Héja, Dávid Szakács, Katalin Zboray, Gitta Schlosser, András Micsonai, József Kardos, Andrea Bodor, Gábor Pál

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Reversible serine proteinase inhibitors comprise 18 unrelated families. Each family has a distinct representative structure but contains a surface loop that adopts the same, canonical conformation in the enzyme–inhibitor complex. The Laskowski mechanism universally applies for the action of all canonical inhibitors independent of their scaffold, but it has two nontrivial extrapolations. Intrascaffolding additivity states that all enzyme-contacting loop residues act independently of each other, while interscaffolding additivity claims that these residues act independently of the scaffold. These theories have great importance for engineering proteinase inhibitors but have not been comprehensively challenged. Therefore, we tested the interscaffolding additivity theory by hard-randomizing all enzyme-contacting canonical loop positions of a Kazal- and a Pacifastin-scaffold inhibitor, displaying the variants on M13 phage, and selecting the libraries on trypsin and chymotrypsin. Directed evolution delivered different patterns on both scaffolds against both enzymes, which contradicts interscaffolding additivity. To quantitatively assess the extent of non-additivity, we measured the affinities of the optimal binding loop variants and their binding loop-swapped versions. While optimal variants have picomolar affinities, swapping the evolved loops results in up to 200,000-fold affinity loss. To decipher the underlying causes, we characterized the stability, overall structure and dynamics of the inhibitors with differential scanning calorimetry, circular dichroism and NMR spectroscopy and molecular dynamic simulations. These studies revealed that the foreign loop destabilizes the lower-stability Pacifastin scaffold, while the higher-stability Kazal scaffold distorts the foreign loop. Our findings disprove interscaffolding additivity and show that loop and scaffold form one integrated unit that needs to be coevolved to provide high-affinity inhibition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-575
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • SPINK1
  • directed evolution
  • molecular recognition
  • phage display
  • protein–protein interaction


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