Polytheonamide B (1), isolated from the marine sponge Theonella swinhoei, is a posttranslationally modified ribosomal peptide (MW 5030 Da) that displays extraordinary cytotoxicity. Among its 48 amino acid residues, this peptide includes a variety d- and l-amino acids that do not occur in proteins, and the chiralities of these amino acids alternate in sequence. These structural features induce the formation of a stable β6.3-helix, giving rise to a tubular structure of over 4 nm in length. In the biological setting, this fold is believed to transport cations across the lipid bilayer through a pore, thereby acting as an ion channel.
In this Account, we discuss the construction and structural permutations of this potent cytotoxin. First we describe the 161-step chemical construction of this unusual peptide 1. By developing a synthetic route to 1, we established the chemical basis for subsequent SAR studies to pinpoint the proteinogenic and nonproteinogenic building blocks within the molecule that confer its toxicity and channel function. Using fully synthetic 1, we generated seven analogues with point mutations, and studies of their activity revealed the importance of the N-terminal moiety. Next, we simplified the structure of 1 by substituting six amino acid residues of 1 to design a more synthetically accessible analogue 9. This dansylated polytheonamide mimic 9 was synthesized in 127 total steps, and we evaluated its function to show that it can emulate the toxic and ion channel activities of 1 despite its multiple structural modifications.
Finally, we applied a highly automated synthetic route to 48-mer 9 to generate 13 substructures of 27–39-mers. The 37-mer 12 exhibited nanomolar level toxicity through a potentially distinct mode of action from 1 and 9. The SAR studies of polytheonamide B and the 21 artificial analogues have deepened our understanding of the precise structural requirements for the biological functions of 1. They have also led to the discovery of artificial molecules with various toxicities and channel functions. These achievements demonstrate the benefits of total synthesis and the importance of efficient construction of complex molecules. The knowledge accumulated through these studies will be useful for the rational design of new tailor-made channel peptides and cytotoxic molecules with desired functions.