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This paper describes the molecular recognition of the tripeptide Tyr-Leu-Ala by the synthetic receptor cucurbit[8]uril (Q8) in aqueous buffer with nanomolar affinity and exceptional specificity. This combination of characteristics, which also applies to antibodies, is desirable for applications in biochemistry and biotechnology but has eluded supramolecular chemists for decades. Building on prior knowledge that Q8 binds to peptides with N-terminal aromatic residues, a library screen of 105 peptides was designed to test the effects of residues adjacent to N-terminal Trp, Phe, or Tyr. The screen used tetramethylbenzobis(imidazolium) (MBBI) as a fluorescent indicator and resulted in the unexpected discovery that MBBI can serve not only as a turn-off sensor via the simultaneous inclusion of a Trp residue but also as a turn-on sensor via the competitive displacement of MBBI upon binding of Phe- or Tyr-terminated peptides. The unusual fluorescence response of the Tyr series prompted further investigation by 1H NMR spectroscopy, electrospray ionization mass spectrometry, and isothermal titration calorimetry. From these studies, a novel binding motif was discovered in which only 1 equiv of peptide binds to Q8, and the side chains of both the N-terminal Tyr residue and its immediate neighbor bind within the Q8 cavity. For the peptide Tyr-Leu-Ala, the equilibrium dissociation constant value is 7.2 nM, whereas that of its sequence isomer Tyr-Ala-Leu is 34 μM. The high stability, recyclability, and low cost of Q8 combined with the straightforward incorporation of Tyr-Leu-Ala into recombinant proteins should make this system attractive for the development of biological applications.

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American Chemical Society

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Journal of the American Chemical Society

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Chemistry Commons