Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Chemical Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Matthew C.T. Hartman

Second Advisor

Dr. Vladimir Sidorov

Third Advisor

Dr. T. Ashton Cropp

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Heather Lucas

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Lawrence Povirk


Peptides are a promising class of therapeutic candidates due to their high specificity and affinity for cellular protein targets. However, peptides are susceptible to protease degradation and are typically not cell-permeable. In efforts to design more effective peptide drug discovery systems, investigators have discovered that incorporation of non-canonical amino acids (ncAAs) and macrocyclization overcome these limitations, making peptides more drug-like.

In this work, we exploit the promiscuity of wild-type aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs) to ‘mischarge’ ncAAs onto tRNA and ribosomally incorporate them into peptides using a cell-free translation system. We have demonstrated the ability to incorporate five ncAAs into a single peptide with near-wild type yield and fidelity. We also demonstrated the in situ incorporation of ncAAs containing azide and alkyne functionalities, enabling the use of CuAAC (click chemistry) to generate triazole-bridged cyclic peptides. When combined with bisalkylation of peptides containing two cysteines via an α,α’-dibromo-m-xylene linker, we created bicyclic peptides which are structurally similar to the highly bioactive knotted peptide natural products.

Biological display methods, such as mRNA display, are powerful peptide discovery tools based on their ability to generate libraries of >1014 unique peptides. We combined our ability to incorporate ncAAs with our bicyclization technique adapted for use with mRNA display to create knotted peptide library scaffolds. We performed side-by-side monocyclic and bicyclic in vitro selections against a model protein (streptavidin). Both selections resulted in peptides with mid-nM affinity, and the bicyclic selection yielded a peptide with remarkable protease resistance.

We used a new library that enables the generation of a diverse collection of linear, monocyclic and bicyclic scaffolds in one pot, increasing the likelihood of target-ligand conformational alignment. We performed a second selection against streptavidin and revealed a nearly unanimous preference for linear peptides containing an HPQ motif, a known streptavidin-binding sequence. However, when we used these libraries for in vitro selection against a biological target, DNA repair protein XRCC4, we did not observe convergence.

In summary, we have developed a novel technique for production of bicyclic peptide libraries. These highly-constrained protease-stable scaffolds can be used as platforms to identify high affinity, drug-like ligands using mRNA display.


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