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Deciphering the Fluorine Code—The Many Hats Fluorine Wears in a Protein Environment

Berger, Allison Ann; Völler, Jan-Stefan; Budisa, Nediljko; Koksch, Beate

Deciphering the fluorine code is how we describe not only the focus of this Account, but also the systematic approach to studying the impact of fluorine's incorporation on the properties of peptides and proteins used by our groups and others. The introduction of fluorine has been shown to impart favorable, but seldom predictable, properties to peptides and proteins, but up until about two decades ago the outcomes of fluorine modification of peptides and proteins were largely left to chance. Driven by the motivation to extend the application of the unique properties of the element fluorine from medicinal and agro chemistry to peptide and protein engineering we have established extensive research programs that enable the systematic investigation of effects that accompany the introduction of fluorine into this class of biopolymers. The introduction of fluorine into amino acids offers a universe of options for modifications with regard to number and position of fluorine substituents in the amino acid side chain. Moreover, it is important to emphasize that the consequences of incorporating the C-F bond into a biopolymer can be attributed to two distinct yet related phenomena: (i) the fluorine substituent can directly engage in intermolecular interactions with its environment and/or (ii) the other functional groups present in the molecule can be influenced by the electron withdrawing nature of this element (intramolecular) and in turn interact differently with their immediate environment (intermolecular). Based on our studies, we have shown that a change in number and/or position of as subtle as one single fluorine substituent has the power to considerably modify key properties of amino acids such as hydrophobicity, polarity, and secondary structure propensity. These properties are crucial factors in peptide and protein engineering, and thus, fluorinated amino acids can be applied to fine-tune properties such as protein folding, proteolytic stability, and protein-protein interactions provided we understand and become able to predict the outcome of a fluorine substitution in this context. With this Account, we attempt to analyze information we gained from our recent projects on how the nature of the fluorine atom and C-F bond influence four key properties of peptides and proteins: peptide folding, protein protein interactions, ribosomal translation, and protease stability. These results impressively show why the introduction of fluorine creates a new class of amino acids with a repertoire of functionalities that is unique to the world of proteins and in some cases orthogonal to the set of canonical and natural amino acids. Our concluding statements aim to offer a few conserved design principles that have emerged from systematic studies over the last two decades; in this way, we hope to advance the field of peptide and protein engineering based on the judicious introduction of fluorinated building blocks.
Published in: Accounts of Chemical Research, 10.1021/acs.accounts.7b00226, American Chemical Society (ACS)