Actin is the most abundant protein in eukaryotic cells and is key to many cellular functions. The filamentous form of actin (F-actin) can be studied with help of natural products that specifically recognize it, as for example fluorophore-labeled probes of the bicyclic peptide phalloidin, but no synthetic probes exist for the monomeric form of actin (G-actin). Herein, we have panned a phage display library consisting of more than 10 billion bicyclic peptides against G-actin and isolated binders with low nanomolar affinity and greater than 1000-fold selectivity over F-actin. Sequence analysis revealed a strong similarity to a region of thymosin-β4, a protein that weakly binds G-actin, and competition binding experiments confirmed a common binding region at the cleft between actin subdomains 1 and 3. Together with F-actin-specific peptides that we also isolated, we evaluated the G-actin peptides as probes in pull-down, imaging, and competition binding experiments. While the F-actin peptides were applied successfully for capturing actin in cell lysates and for imaging, the G-actin peptides did not bind in the cellular context, most likely due to competition with thymosin-β4 or related endogenous proteins for the same binding site.
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