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Many human pathogens use host cell-surface receptors to attach and invade cells. Often, the host-pathogen interaction affinity is low, presenting opportunities to block invasion using a soluble, high-affinity mimic of the host protein. The Plasmodium falciparum reticulocyte-binding protein homolog 5 (RH5) provides an exciting candidate for mimicry: it is highly conserved and its moderate affinity binding to the human receptor basigin (KD  ≥1 μM) is an essential step in erythrocyte invasion by this malaria parasite. We used deep mutational scanning of a soluble fragment of human basigin to systematically characterize point mutations that enhance basigin affinity for RH5 and then used Rosetta to design a variant within the sequence space of affinity-enhancing mutations. The resulting seven-mutation design exhibited 1900-fold higher affinity (KD approximately 1 nM) for RH5 with a very slow binding off rate (0.23 h-1 ) and reduced the effective Plasmodium growth-inhibitory concentration by at least 10-fold compared to human basigin. The design provides a favorable starting point for engineering on-rate improvements that are likely to be essential to reach therapeutically effective growth inhibition.

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Journal article



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Plasmodium falciparum, Rosetta, deep sequencing, high-affinity design, host-pathogen interactions