The design of a new class of selective and high affinity antibody mimetics termed clamp peptide (CP) that incorporate three short peptides structurally and mechanically mimicking a clamp is proposed as sensing elements for a reliable detection sensor platform. The CPs consist of two short peptides functioning as arms that recognize two different epitopes in the target protein and are connected by a third short peptide that acts as a hinge between the peptide arms. For the construction of CPs, we employed a rational design combined with computational methods. To illustrate our approach, we designed a CP that binds selectively to the envelope protein of the Zika virus (ZIKV). The virtual docking cycles were run maximizing the discrimination between ZIKV and Dengue virus (DENV) envelope proteins. DENV was chosen among the flavivirus family because it has high structural similarity with ZIKV. When employed in a colorimetric binding assay or in label-free electrochemical impedance sensor format, the CP was selective for ZIKV vs DENV particles showing detection limit under 10 copies/mL, comparable to anti-ZIKV antibodies. Apparent dissociation binding constants (Kd) confirmed a better performance of CPs than mono-arm peptides (Kd of best CP = 162 nM ± 23 nM; Kd of best mono-arm peptide = 11.15 ± 2.76 μM). The performance of the assays based on CPs was also verified in serum and urine (diluted 1:10 and 1:1 respectively). The detection limits of CPs decreased about one order of magnitude for ZIKV detection in serum or urine, with a distinct analytical signal starting from 10 copies/mL of ZIKV.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier B.V.