Peptide may be pivotal in treating disease

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have successfully synthesized a peptide that could make pharmaceutical waves in the treatment of infectious diseases, neurodegenerative disorders and even cancer.

According to the study cohort, the peptide Tat-beclin-1 could work within a to-be-developed drug as an inducer of autophagy, a cell-recycling process. During trials conducted on mice, Tat-beclin-1 was found to be resistant to some of the world’s greatest infectious menaces including West Nile virus and another common mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya. What’s more, in studies that followed, it was found that human cells administered with the peptide were resistant to HIV infection.

“Because autophagy plays such a crucial role in regulating disease, autophagy-inducing agents such as the Tat–beclin 1 peptide may have potential for pharmaceutical development and the subsequent prevention and treatment of a broad range of human diseases,” said Beth Levine, MD, director of the Center for Autophagy Research, senior author of the study and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UT Southwestern, in a news release.

Following the completion of the studies, UT Southwestern applied for a patent on Tat-beclin 1. A center release defended the bid: “The Tat-beclin 1 peptide was derived from sequences in beclin 1, one of the first known proteins in mammals found to be essential for autophagy, a finding that was made by Dr. Levine’s laboratory. Her research has since demonstrated that defects in beclin 1 contribute to many types of disease. Conversely, beclin 1 activity and the autophagy pathway appear to be important for protection against breast, lung and ovarian cancers, as well as for fighting off viral and bacterial infections, and for protecting individuals from neurodegenerative diseases and aging.”

Autophagy disruption has also been identified as a major component in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

The UT Southwestern report was published in the latest edition of the online journal Nature. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the HHMI, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research-Earth and Life Sciences Open Program, Cancer Research United Kingdom, and a Robert A. Welch Foundation Award.