Exploiting the Features of Short Peptides to Recognize Specific Cell Surface Markers

Michela Buonocore, Manuela Grimaldi, Valeria Perugini, Matteo Santin, Anna Maria D'Ursi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antibodies are the macromolecules of choice to ensure specific recognition of biomarkers in biological assays. However, they present a range of shortfalls including a relatively high production cost and limited tissue penetration. Peptides are relatively small molecules able to reproduce sequences of highly specific paratopes and, although they have less biospecificity than antibodies, they offer advantages like ease of synthesis, modifications of their amino acid sequences and tagging with fluorophores and other molecules required for detection. This work presents a strategy to design peptide sequences able to recognize the CD44 hyaluronic acid receptor present in the plasmalemma of a range of cells including human bone marrow stromal mesenchymal cells. The protocol of identification of the optimal amino acid sequence was based on the combination of rational design and in silico methodologies. This protocol led to the identification of two peptide sequences which
were synthesized and tested on human bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells (hBM-MSCs) for their ability to ensure specific binding to the CD44 receptor. Of the two peptides, one binds CD44 with sensitivity and selectivity, thus proving its potential to be used as a suitable alternative to this antibody in conventional immunostaining. In the context of regenerative medicine, the availability of this peptide could be harnessed to functionalize tissue engineering scaffolds to anchor stem cells as well as to be integrated into systems such as cell sorters to efficiently isolate MSCs from biological samples including various cell subpopulations. The data here reported can represent a model for developing peptide sequences able to recognize hBM-MSCs and other types of cells and for their integration in a range of biomedical applications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15610
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2023


  • peptides; mesenchymal stromal cells; molecular docking; molecular dynamics; FACS; confocal microscopy


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