The oxidative-stress-responsive kinase 1 (OSR1) and the STE20/SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich kinase (SPAK) are key enzymes in a signaling cascade regulating the activity of Na(+)-K(+)-2Cl(-) cotransporters (NKCC1-2) and Na(+)-Cl(-) cotransporter (NCC). Both kinases have a conserved carboxyl-terminal (CCT) domain, which recognizes a unique peptide motif present in OSR1- and SPAK-activating kinases (with-no-lysine kinase 1 (WNK1) and WNK4) as well as their substrates (NKCC1, NKCC2, and NCC). Utilizing various modalities of the Rosetta Molecular Modeling Software Suite including flexible peptide docking and protein design, we comprehensively explored the sequence space recognized by the CCT domain. Specifically, we studied single residue mutations as well as complete unbiased designs of a hexapeptide substrate. The computational study started from a crystal structure of the CCT domain of OSR1 in complex with a hexapeptide derived from WNK4. Point mutations predicted to be favorable include Arg to His or Trp substitutions at position 2 and a Phe to Tyr substitution at position 3 of the hexapeptide. In addition, de novo design yielded two peptides predicted to bind to the CCT domain: FRFQVT and TRFDVT. These results, which indicate a little bit more freedom in the composition of the peptide, were confirmed through the use of yeast two-hybrid screening.
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