Plasticity of the binding pocket in peptide transporters underpins promiscuous substrate recognition

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Proton-coupled oligopeptide transporters (POTs) are promiscuous transporters of the Major Facilitator Superfamily, that constitute the main route of entry for a wide range of dietary peptides and orally administrated peptidomimetic drugs. Given their clinical and pathophysiological relevance, several bacterial and mammalian POT homologs have been extensively studied on a structural and molecular level. However, the molecular basis of recognition and transport of the wide range of peptide substrates has remained elusive. Here we present 14 X-ray structures of the bacterial POT DtpB in complex with chemically diverse di- and tripeptides, providing novel insights into the plasticity of the conserved central binding cavity. We analyzed binding affinities for more than 80 peptides and monitored uptake by a fluorescence-based transport assay. To probe if all natural 8400 di- and tripeptides can bind to DtpB, we employed state-of-the-art molecular docking and machine learning and conclude that peptides of a specific subset with compact hydrophobic residues are the best DtpB binders.

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