One innate immune response in insects is the proteolytic activation of hemolymph prophenoloxidase (proPO), regulated by protease inhibitors called serpins. In the inhibition reaction of serpins, a protease cleaves a peptide bond in a solvent-exposed reactive center loop (RCL) of the serpin, and the serpin undergoes a conformational change, incorporating the amino-terminal segment of the RCL into serpin β-sheet A as a new strand. This results in an irreversible inhibitory complex of the serpin with the protease. We synthesized four peptides with sequences from the hinge region in the RCL of Manduca sexta serpin-3 and found they were able to block serpin-3 inhibitory activity, resulting in suppression of inhibitory protease-serpin complex formation. An RCL-derived peptide with the sequence Ser-Val-Ala-Phe-Ser (SVAFS) displayed robust blocking activity against serpin-3. Addition of acetyl-SVAFS-amide to hemolymph led to unregulated proPO activation. Serpin-3 associated with Ac-SVAFS-COO− had an altered circular dichroism spectrum and enhanced thermal resistance to change in secondary structure, indicating that these two molecules formed a binary complex, most likely by insertion of the peptide into β-sheet A. The interference of RCL-derived peptides with serpin activity may lead to new possibilities of “silencing” arthropod serpins with unknown functions for investigation of their physiological roles.
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