The field of de novo protein design has met with considerable success over the past few decades. Heme, a cofactor, has often been introduced to impart a diverse array of functions to a protein, ranging from electron transport to respiration. In nature, heme is found to occur predominantly in α-helical structures over β-sheets, which has resulted in significant designs of heme proteins utilizing coiled-coil helices. By contrast, there are only a few known β-sheet proteins that bind heme and designs of β-sheets frequently result in amyloid-like aggregates. This review reflects on our success in designing a series of multistranded β-sheet heme binding peptides that are well folded in both aqueous and membrane-like environments. Initially, we designed a β-hairpin peptide that self-assembles to bind heme and performs peroxidase activity in membrane. The β-hairpin was optimized further to accommodate a heme binding pocket within multistranded β-sheets for catalysis and electron transfer in membranes. Furthermore, we de novo designed and characterized β-sheet peptides and miniproteins that are soluble in an aqueous environment capable of binding single and multiple hemes with high affinity and stability. Collectively, these studies highlight the substantial progress made toward the design of functional β-sheets.
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