MDPI: Design and Characterization of a Cell-Penetrating Peptide Derived from the SOX2 Transcription Factor (Blancafort)

SOX2 is an oncogenic transcription factor overexpressed in nearly half of the basal-like triple-negative breast cancers associated with very poor outcomes. Targeting and inhibiting SOX2 is clinically relevant as high SOX2 mRNA levels are positively correlated with decreased overall survival and progression-free survival in patients affected with breast cancer. Given its key role as a master regulator of cell proliferation, SOX2 represents an important scaffold for the engineering of dominant-negative synthetic DNA-binding domains (DBDs) that act by blocking or interfering with the oncogenic activity of the endogenous transcription factor in cancer cells. We have synthesized an interference peptide (iPep) encompassing a truncated 24 amino acid long C-terminus of SOX2 containing a potential SOX-specific nuclear localization sequence, and the determinants of the binding of SOX2 to the DNA and to its transcription factor binding partners. We found that the resulting peptide (SOX2-iPep) possessed intrinsic cell penetration and promising nuclear localization into breast cancer cells, and decreased cellular proliferation of SOX2 overexpressing cell lines. The novel SOX2-iPep was found to exhibit a random coil conformation predominantly in solution. Molecular dynamics simulations were used to characterize the interactions of both the SOX2 transcription factor and the SOX2-iPep with FGF4-enhancer DNA in the presence of the POU domain of the partner transcription factor OCT4. Predictions of the free energy of binding revealed that the iPep largely retained the binding affinity for DNA of parental SOX2. This work will enable the future engineering of novel dominant interference peptides to transport different therapeutic cargo molecules such as anti-cancer drugs into cells.

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Since 2004, UT Health San Antonio, Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute’s (Greehey CCRI) mission has been to advance scientific knowledge relevant to childhood cancer, contribute to the understanding of its causes, and accelerate the translation of knowledge into novel therapies. Through discovery, development, and dissemination of new scientific knowledge, Greehey CCRI strives to have a national and global impact on childhood cancer. Our mission consists of three key areas — research, clinical, and education.

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Article Categories: Research Paper