Self-splicing introns and inteins attract attention for their molecular mechanisms, phylogentic diversity, role in genome evolution, and application in research, biotechnology and medicine. Interest in these elements stems from their self-splicing properties at the RNA level for introns and protein level for inteins, and from their ability to ac as mobile genetic elements at the DNA level. In the past funding period, we made considerable progress in structural and functional characterization of these self-splicing introns and inteins. For the next research phase, we will focus on the relatively understudied inteins. Inteins exist at the crossroads of the disparate disciplines of protein chemistry, biotechnology and molecular evolution. Their autocatalytic peptide cleavage and ligation reactions make them useful tools in modern chemical biology, whereas their existence within proteins critical to vital cellular processes raises provocative questions about their function in nature. We propose the following three specific aims, based on discoveries made in the past funding period: In the first aim, we will analyze the role of the flanking host sequences, the exteins, on intein structure, splicing an evolution. This work is enabled by our collaborations with physicists and structural biologists. We will also address a bold hypothesis, that inteins persist in specific exteins because they confer a selective advantage on their host, through adaptive interactions with flanking extein residues. In the second aim, we will study intein inhibitors as mechanistic probes and antimicrobials. Thus we will exploit the existence of inteins in critical genes of microbial pathogens, to probe inteins as novel targets for bacterial and fungal antibiotics. We will further characterize cisplatin, the chemotherapeutic agent, which we identified as a protein splicing inhibitor. We will investigate cisplatin's efficacy against infection by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and also test its ability to curtail activity of cryptococcal inteins. Additionally, we aim to isolte small-molecule and peptide inhibitors, with a view to comparing their properties with each other and with cisplatin. In the third aim, we will use molecular methodologies previously developed in our lab (redox traps, gain-of-fluorescence protease sensors, and phage display selections), to fashion tools for biotechnology and medicine. Thus, we will exploit our ability to isolate wild-typ intein precursors for biological and chemical applications, and construct sensors for proteases in a botulism toxin diagnostic and to detect tuberculosis (TB) biomarkers as a TB diagnostic. Once again we are taking collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches, which combine genetics, biochemistry and microbiology with physics and structural biology. In this way, we will enhance our understanding of the structure, function and evolution of inteins, as a means to exploit them as potential targets for drug development and as novel reagents in biotechnology and medical diagnostics.

Public Health Relevance

The overall goal of this application is to build upon progress made in the previous funding period, using interdisciplinary approaches to study intein structure, function, evolution and application. The applied aspects of the proposal relate to isolation and characterization of inhibitors of microbial inteins, as a means to discover novel antibiotics against tuberculosis and mycoses. We will also exploit intein technology to develop a diagnostic sensor for botulinum toxin and for tuberculosis biomarkers.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Prokaryotic Cell and Molecular Biology Study Section (PCMB)
Program Officer
Janes, Daniel E
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
State University of New York at Albany
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Pearson, C Seth; Nemati, Reza; Liu, Binbin et al. (2018) Structure of an Engineered Intein Reveals Thiazoline Ring and Provides Mechanistic Insight. Biotechnol Bioeng :
Qu, Guosheng; Piazza, Carol Lyn; Smith, Dorie et al. (2018) Group II intron inhibits conjugative relaxase expression in bacteria by mRNA targeting. Elife 7:
Lennon, Christopher W; Stanger, Matthew; Banavali, Nilesh K et al. (2018) Conditional Protein Splicing Switch in Hyperthermophiles through an Intein-Extein Partnership. MBio 9:
Kelley, Danielle S; Lennon, Christopher W; Li, Zhong et al. (2018) Mycobacterial DnaB helicase intein as oxidative stress sensor. Nat Commun 9:4363
Green, Cathleen M; Novikova, Olga; Belfort, Marlene (2018) The dynamic intein landscape of eukaryotes. Mob DNA 9:4
Belfort, Marlene (2017) Mobile self-splicing introns and inteins as environmental sensors. Curr Opin Microbiol 38:51-58
Lennon, Christopher W; Belfort, Marlene (2017) Inteins. Curr Biol 27:R204-R206
Novikova, Olga; Belfort, Marlene (2017) Mobile Group II Introns as Ancestral Eukaryotic Elements. Trends Genet 33:773-783
Novikova, Olga; Jayachandran, Pradeepa; Kelley, Danielle S et al. (2016) Intein Clustering Suggests Functional Importance in Different Domains of Life. Mol Biol Evol 33:783-99
Lennon, Christopher W; Stanger, Matthew; Belfort, Marlene (2016) Protein splicing of a recombinase intein induced by ssDNA and DNA damage. Genes Dev 30:2663-2668

Showing the most recent 10 out of 77 publications