Incorporation of noncoded amino acids into the N-terminal domain 1-47 of hirudin yields a highly potent and selective thrombin inhibitor

Vincenzo De Filippis, Ilaria Russo, Alessandro Vindigni, Enrico Di Cera, Stefano Salmaso, Angelo Fontana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Hirudin is an anticoagulant polypeptide isolated from a medicinal leech that inhibits thrombin with extraordinary potency (K(d) = 0.2-1.0 pM) and selectivity. Hirudin is composed of a compact N-terminal region (residues 1- 47, cross-linked by three disulfide bridges) that binds to the active site of thrombin, and a flexible C-terminal tail (residues 48-64) that interacts with the exosite I of the enzyme. To minimize the sequence of hirudin able to bind thrombin and also to improve its therapeutic profile, several N-terminal fragments have been prepared as potential anticoagulants. However, the practical use of these fragments has been impaired by their relatively poor affinity for the enzyme, as given by the increased value of the dissociation constant (K(d)) of the corresponding thrombin complexes (K(d) = 30-400 nM). The aim of the present study is to obtain a derivative of the N-terminal domain 1-47 of hirudin displaying enhanced inhibitory potency for thrombin compared to the natural product. In this view, we have synthesized an analogue of fragment 1-47 of hirudin HM2 in which Vall has been replaced by tert-butylglycine, Ser2 by Arg, and Tyr3 by β-naphthylalanine, to give the BugArgNal analogue. The results of chemical and conformational characterization indicate that the synthetic peptide is able to fold efficiently with the correct disulfide topology (Cys6-Cys14, Cys16-Cys28, Cys22-Cys37), while retaining the conformational properties of the natural fragment. Thrombin inhibition data indicate that the effects of amino acid replacements are perfectly additive if compared to the singly substituted analogues (De Filippis V, Quarzago D, Vindigni A, Di Cera E, Fontana A, 1998, Biochemistry 37:13507-13515), yielding a molecule that inhibits the fast or slow form of thrombin by 2,670- and 6,818-fold more effectively than the natural fragment, and that binds exclusively at the active site of the enzyme with an affinity (K(d,fast)= 15.4 pM, K(d,slow)= 220 pM) comparable to that of full-length hirudin (K(d,fast)= 0.2 pM, K(d,slow)= 5.5 pM). Moreover, BugArgNal displays absolute selectivity for thrombin over the other physiologically important serine proteases trypsin, plasmin, factor Xa, and tissue plasminogen activator, up to the highest concentration of inhibitor tested (10 μM).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2213-2217
Number of pages5
JournalProtein Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1999


  • Anticoagulant peptides
  • Hirudin
  • Noncoded amino acids
  • Peptide synthesis
  • Thrombin


Dive into the research topics of 'Incorporation of noncoded amino acids into the N-terminal domain 1-47 of hirudin yields a highly potent and selective thrombin inhibitor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this