Atherosclerosis is characterized by chronic inflammation of the arterial wall. Mononuclear cell recruitment is driven by chemokines that can be deposited e.g. by activated platelets on inflamed endothelium. Chemokines require oligomerization and immobilization for efficient function, and recent evidence supports the notion that heterodimer formation between chemokines constitutes a new regulatory principle amplifying specific chemokine activities while suppressing others.
Although crucial to inflammatory disease, this functional role has been difficult to prove in vivo, primarily as chemokine heterodimers exist in equilibrium with their homodimer counterparts.
We have introduced the paradigm that heteromerization of chemokines provides the combinatorial diversity for functional plasticity and fine-tuning, coining this interactome. Given the relevance of chemokine heteromers in vivo, we aim to exploit this in an anti-inflammatory approach to selectively target vascular disease. In a multidisciplinary project, we will generate covalently-linked heterodimers to establish their biological significance. Obligate heterodimers of CC and CXC chemokines will be designed by computer-assisted modeling, chemically synthesized and cross-linked, structurally assessed using NMR spectroscopy or crystallography, and subjected to functional characterization in vitro and reconstitution in vivo. Conversely, we will develop cyclic β-sheet-based peptides binding chemokines to specifically disrupt heteromers and we will generate mice with conditional deletion or knock-in of chemokine mutants with defects in heteromerization or proteoglycan binding to be analyzed in models of atherosclerosis. Peptides will be used for molecular imaging and chemokine heteromers will be quantified in cardiovascular patients.