Inteins are phylogenetically diverse protein splicing elements that attract attention for their mechanisms of autocatalysis and application in research, biotechnology and medicine. Interest in these elements further stems from their ability to act as mobile genetic elements at the DNA level and the role they play in genome evolution. Intein research exists at the crossroads of the disparate disciplines of protein chemistry, structural biology, genetics, molecular evolution and biotechnology. The autocatalytic peptide cleavage and ligation reactions make inteins useful tools in modern chemical biology, whereas intein presence within proteins critical to cellular processes raises provocative questions about their potential function in nature. In the past funding period, we made considerable progress in functional and structural characterization of inteins, most notably that some act as regulatory sensors that respond to environmental cues. We also solved the crystal structure of an intein complexed with cisplatin, a potential novel antimicrobial agent. We propose the following three specific aims, based on discoveries made in the past funding period: In the first aim, we will characterize phage intein distribution and dissemination, and test the hypothesis of phage inteins as environmental sensors. We will also investigate the dynamics of intein mobility and pursue the observation that ATPases are intein sinks. In the second aim, we will probe the function of inteins from microbial pathogens, by investigating the Mycobacterium tuberculosis intein in SufB, an iron cluster assembly protein, as a metal ion sensor. We will also examine differential regulation of the two inteins in mycobacterial DnaB, a replicative helicase, and determine the role of the spliceosomal Prp8 intein in RNA splicing of fungal pathogens. In the third aim, we will analyze intein mechanism for applications in biotechnology, by developing a thiazoline-based intein switch for bioseparation and intracellular pH sensing. We will also characterize potent intein inhibitors that prevent the growth of M. tuberculosis, as mechanistic probes and potential antibiotics. Once again, we are taking collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches, which combine bioinformatics, biochemistry, genetics and microbiology with 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 novel reagents in biotechnology and as potential antimicrobial drug targets.

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 developing controllable switches for bioseparations and intein-based intracellular sensors. We are also dedicated to isolation and characterization of inhibitors of microbial inteins, as a means to discover novel antibiotics against tuberculosis and mycoses.

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
Mcguirl, Michele
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
Agrawal, Rajendra Kumar; Wang, Hong-Wei; Belfort, Marlene (2016) Forks in the tracks: Group II introns, spliceosomes, telomeres and beyond. RNA Biol 13:1218-1222
Kelley, Danielle S; Lennon, Christopher W; SEA-PHAGES et al. (2016) Mycobacteriophages as Incubators for Intein Dissemination and Evolution. MBio 7:

Showing the most recent 10 out of 77 publications