Substitution of leucine residues by 5,5,5-trifluoroleucine at the d-positions of the leucine zipper peptide GCN4-p1d increases the thermal stability of the coiled-coil structure. The midpoint thermal unfolding temperature of the fluorinated peptide is elevated by 13°C at 30 μM peptide concentration. The modified peptide is more resistant to chaotropic denaturants, and the free energy of folding of the fluorinated peptide is 0.5 - 1.2 kcal/mol larger than that of the hydrogenated form. A similarly fluorinated form of the DNA-binding peptide GCN4-bZip binds to target DNA sequences with affinity and specificity identical to those of the hydrogenated form, while demonstrating enhanced thermal stability. Molecular dynamics simulation on the fluorinated GCN4-p1d peptide using the Surface Generalized Born implicit solvation model revealed that the coiled-coil binding energy is 55% more favorable upon fluorination. These results suggest that fluorination of hydrophobic substructures in peptides and proteins may provide new means of increasing protein stability, enhancing protein assembly, and strengthening receptor - ligand interactions.
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