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Molecular Mechanism of Action of Mitochondrial Therapeutic SS-31 (Elamipretide): Membrane Interactions and Effects on Surface Electrostatics

By Wayne Mitchell, Emily A. Ng, Jeffrey D. Tamucci, Kevin Boyd, Murugappan Sathappa, Adrian Coscia, Meixia Pan, Xianlin Han, Nicholas A. Eddy, Eric R. May, Hazel H. Szeto, Nathan N. Alder

Posted 14 Aug 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/735001

Mitochondrial dysfunction includes heritable diseases, acquired pathologies, and age-related declines in health. Szeto-Schiller (SS) peptides comprise a class of amphipathic tetrapeptides that have demonstrated efficacy in treating a wide array of mitochondrial disorders, and are believed to target mitochondrial membranes due to their enrichment in the anionic phospholipid cardiolipin (CL). However, little is known regarding how SS peptides interact with or alter the physical properties of lipid bilayers. In this study, we have analyzed the interactions of the lead compound SS-31 (Elamipretide) with model and mitochondrial membranes using biophysical and computational approaches. Our results show that this polybasic peptide partitions into the membrane interfacial region with affinity and binding density that are directly related to surface charge. SS-31 binding does not destabilize lamellar bilayers even at the highest binding concentrations; however, it does cause saturable alterations in lipid packing. Most notably, SS-31 modulates the surface electrostatic properties of model and mitochondrial membranes, which could play a significant role in the mitoprotective properties of this compound. As a proof of concept, we show that SS-31 alters ion distribution at the membrane interface with implications for maintaining mitochondrial membranes subject to divalent cation (calcium) stress. Taken together, these results support a mechanism of action in which SS peptides interact with lipid bilayers and alter the biophysical (primarily electrostatic) properties of mitochondrial membranes as their primary mechanism of action. Understanding this molecular mechanism is key to the development of future compound variants with enhanced efficacy.

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