The cyclotides are a recently discovered, structurally unique family of bioactive plant peptides. Their discovery spawned a series of structural analyses, synthetic efforts, and studies to define the biosynthesis and biological properties of these novel peptide metabolites. Cyclotides have a head-to-tail cyclized amino acid backbone and a conserved cystine knot motif that provides an extremely stable structural framework. They all share a common global fold and are highly resistant to denaturation and to cleavage by proteolytic enzymes. However, these macrocyclic peptides are quite permissive to amino acid substitutions or additions in several peripheral loop regions, since changes in these loops do not alter the core cyclotide structure. These features make cyclotides attractive templates for incorporating desired amino acid sequences and then delivering these peptide sequences in a well defined, highly stable framework. Cyclotides likely function in a defensive role in the source plants since they exhibit a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity and are detrimental to the growth and survival of herbivorous insects. Cyclotides are gene-encoded polypeptides that are cleaved from larger precursor proteins and then cyclized. This review summarizes research done on a subset of cyclotides that were discovered due to their HIV inhibitory properties. It details the isolation and characterization of these compounds and describes this work in the context of our current state of knowledge of the entire cyclotide family.
Keywords: cyclotide, hiv, macrocyclic peptide, circulin, cycloviolin, palicourein, cyclic cystine knot
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