The Myxomavirus-derived protein Serp-1 has potent anti-inflammatory activity in models of vasculitis, lupus, viral sepsis, and transplant. Serp-1 has also been tested successfully in a Phase IIa clinical trial in unstable angina, representing a "first-in-class" therapeutic. Recently, peptides derived from the reactive center loop (RCL) have been developed as stand-alone therapeutics for reducing vasculitis and improving survival in MHV68-infected mice. However, both Serp-1 and the RCL peptides lose activity in MHV68-infected mice after antibiotic suppression of intestinal microbiota. Here, we utilize a structure-guided approach to design and test a series of next-generation RCL peptides with improved therapeutic potential that is not reduced when the peptides are combined with antibiotic treatments. The crystal structure of cleaved Serp-1 was determined to 2.5 Å resolution and reveals a classical serpin structure with potential for serpin-derived RCL peptides to bind and inhibit mammalian serpins, plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1), anti-thrombin III (ATIII), and α-1 antitrypsin (A1AT), and target proteases. Using in silico modeling of the Serp-1 RCL peptide, S-7, we designed several modified RCL peptides that were predicted to have stronger interactions with human serpins because of the larger number of stabilizing hydrogen bonds. Two of these peptides (MPS7-8 and -9) displayed extended activity, improving survival where activity was previously lost in antibiotic-treated MHV68-infected mice (P < 0.0001). Mass spectrometry and kinetic assays suggest interaction of the peptides with ATIII, A1AT, and target proteases in mouse and human plasma. In summary, we present the next step toward the development of a promising new class of anti-inflammatory serpin-based therapeutics.
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