Bioorthogonal chemistries can be used to tag diverse classes of biomolecules in cells and other complex environments. With over 20 unique transformations now available, though, selecting an appropriate reaction for a given experiment is challenging. In this article, we compare and contrast the most common classes of bioorthogonal chemistries and provide a framework for matching the reactions with downstream applications. We also discuss ongoing efforts to identify novel biocompatible reactions and methods to control their reactivity. The continued expansion of the bioorthogonal toolkit will provide new insights into biomolecule networks and functions and thus refine our understanding of living systems.
The Bromo- and Extra-Terminal (BET) proteins BRD2, BRD3, and BRD4 play important roles in transcriptional regulation, epigenetics, and cancer and are the targets of pan-BET selective bromodomain inhibitor JQ1. However, the lack of intra-BET selectivity limits the scope of current inhibitors as probes for target validation and could lead to unwanted side effects or toxicity in a therapeutic setting. We designed Proteolysis Targeted Chimeras (PROTACs) that tether JQ1 to a ligand for the E3 ubiquitin ligase VHL, aimed at triggering the intracellular destruction of BET proteins. Compound MZ1 potently and rapidly induces reversible, long-lasting, and unexpectedly selective removal of BRD4 over BRD2 and BRD3. The activity of MZ1 is dependent on binding to VHL but is achieved at a sufficiently low concentration not to induce stabilization of HIF-1α. Gene expression profiles of selected cancer-related genes responsive to JQ1 reveal distinct and more limited transcriptional responses induced by MZ1, consistent with selective suppression of BRD4. Our discovery opens up new opportunities to elucidate the cellular phenotypes and therapeutic implications associated with selective targeting of BRD4.
Topoisomerases are ubiquitous enzymes that control DNA supercoiling and entanglements. They are essential during transcription and replication, and topoisomerase inhibitors are among the most effective and most commonly used anticancer and antibacterial drugs. This review consists of two parts. In the first part (“Lessons”), it gives background information on the catalytic mechanisms of the different enzyme families (6 different genes in humans and 4 in most bacteria), describes the “interfacial inhibition” by which topoisomerase-targeted drugs act as topoisomerase poisons, and describes clinically relevant topoisomerase inhibitors. It generalizes the interfacial inhibition principle, which was discovered from the mechanism of action of topoisomerase inhibitors, and discusses how topoisomerase inhibitors kill cells by trapping topoisomerases on DNA rather than by classical enzymatic inhibition. Trapping protein–DNA complexes extends to a novel mechanism of action of PARP inhibitors and could be applied to the targeting of transcription factors. The second part of the review focuses on the challenges for discovery and precise use of topoisomerase inhibitors, including targeting topoisomerase inhibitors using chemical coupling and encapsulation for selective tumor delivery, use of pharmacodynamic biomarkers to follow drug activity, complexity of the response determinants for anticancer activity and patient selection, prospects of rational combinations with DNA repair inhibitors targeting tyrosyl-DNA-phosphodiesterases 1 and 2 (TDP1 and TDP2) and PARP, and the unmet need to develop inhibitors for type IA enzymes.
Bioluminescence methodologies have been extraordinarily useful due to their high sensitivity, broad dynamic range, and operational simplicity. These capabilities have been realized largely through incremental adaptations of native enzymes and substrates, originating from luminous organisms of diverse evolutionary lineages. We engineered both an enzyme and substrate in combination to create a novel bioluminescence system capable of more efficient light emission with superior biochemical and physical characteristics. Using a small luciferase subunit (19 kDa) from the deep sea shrimp Oplophorus gracilirostris, we have improved luminescence expression in mammalian cells ∼2.5 million-fold by merging optimization of protein structure with development of a novel imidazopyrazinone substrate (furimazine). The new luciferase, NanoLuc, produces glow-type luminescence (signal half-life >2 h) with a specific activity ∼150-fold greater than that of either firefly (Photinus pyralis) or Renilla luciferases similarly configured for glow-type assays. In mammalian cells, NanoLuc shows no evidence of post-translational modifications or subcellular partitioning. The enzyme exhibits high physical stability, retaining activity with incubation up to 55 °C or in culture medium for >15 h at 37 °C. As a genetic reporter, NanoLuc may be configured for high sensitivity or for response dynamics by appending a degradation sequence to reduce intracellular accumulation. Appending a signal sequence allows NanoLuc to be exported to the culture medium, where reporter expression can be measured without cell lysis. Fusion onto other proteins allows luminescent assays of their metabolism or localization within cells. Reporter quantitation is achievable even at very low expression levels to facilitate more reliable coupling with endogenous cellular processes.
The authors were asked by the Editors of ACS Chemical Biology to write an article titled “Why Nature Chose Selenium” for the occasion of the upcoming bicentennial of the discovery of selenium by the Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius in 1817 and styled after the famous work of Frank Westheimer on the biological chemistry of phosphate [Westheimer, F. H. (1987) Why Nature Chose Phosphates, Science 235, 1173–1178]. This work gives a history of the important discoveries of the biological processes that selenium participates in, and a point-by-point comparison of the chemistry of selenium with the atom it replaces in biology, sulfur. This analysis shows that redox chemistry is the largest chemical difference between the two chalcogens. This difference is very large for both one-electron and two-electron redox reactions. Much of this difference is due to the inability of selenium to form π bonds of all types. The outer valence electrons of selenium are also more loosely held than those of sulfur. As a result, selenium is a better nucleophile and will react with reactive oxygen species faster than sulfur, but the resulting lack of π-bond character in the Se–O bond means that the Se-oxide can be much more readily reduced in comparison to S-oxides. The combination of these properties means that replacement of sulfur with selenium in nature results in a selenium-containing biomolecule that resists permanent oxidation. Multiple examples of this gain of function behavior from the literature are discussed.
Small-molecule fluorophores manifest the ability of chemistry to solve problems in biology. As we noted in a previous review (Lavis, L. D.; Raines, R. T. ACS Chem. Biol. 2008, 3, 142–155), the extant collection of fluorescent probes is built on a modest set of “core” scaffolds that evolved during a century of academic and industrial research. Here, we survey traditional and modern synthetic routes to small-molecule fluorophores and highlight recent biological insights attained with customized fluorescent probes. Our intent is to inspire the design and creation of new high-precision tools that empower chemical biologists.
The ATP site of kinases displays remarkable conformational flexibility when accommodating chemically diverse small molecule inhibitors. The so-called activation segment, whose conformation controls catalytic activity and access to the substrate binding pocket, can undergo a large conformational change with the active state assuming a ‘DFG-in’ and an inactive state assuming a ‘DFG-out’ conformation. Compounds that preferentially bind to the DFG-out conformation are typically called ‘type II’ inhibitors in contrast to ‘type I’ inhibitors that bind to the DFG-in conformation. This review surveys the large number of type II inhibitors that have been developed and provides an analysis of their crystallographically determined binding modes. Using a small library of type II inhibitors, we demonstrate that more than 200 kinases can be targeted, suggesting that type II inhibitors may not be intrinsically more selective than type I inhibitors.
EZH2 or EZH1 is the catalytic subunit of the polycomb repressive complex 2 that catalyzes methylation of histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27). The trimethylation of H3K27 (H3K27me3) is a transcriptionally repressive post-translational modification. Overexpression of EZH2 and hypertrimethylation of H3K27 have been implicated in a number of cancers. Several selective inhibitors of EZH2 have been reported recently. Herein we disclose UNC1999, the first orally bioavailable inhibitor that has high in vitro potency for wild-type and mutant EZH2 as well as EZH1, a closely related H3K27 methyltransferase that shares 96% sequence identity with EZH2 in their respective catalytic domains. UNC1999 was highly selective for EZH2 and EZH1 over a broad range of epigenetic and non-epigenetic targets, competitive with the cofactor SAM and non-competitive with the peptide substrate. This inhibitor potently reduced H3K27me3 levels in cells and selectively killed diffused large B cell lymphoma cell lines harboring the EZH2Y641N mutant. Importantly, UNC1999 was orally bioavailable in mice, making this inhibitor a valuable tool for investigating the role of EZH2 and EZH1 in chronic animal studies. We also designed and synthesized UNC2400, a close analogue of UNC1999 with potency >1,000-fold lower than that of UNC1999 as a negative control for cell-based studies. Finally, we created a biotin-tagged UNC1999 (UNC2399), which enriched EZH2 in pull-down studies, and a UNC1999–dye conjugate (UNC2239) for co-localization studies with EZH2 in live cells. Taken together, these compounds represent a set of useful tools for the biomedical community to investigate the role of EZH2 and EZH1 in health and disease.
Protein-fragment complementation assays (PCAs) are widely used for investigating protein interactions. However, the fragments used are structurally compromised and have not been optimized nor thoroughly characterized for accurately assessing these interactions. We took advantage of the small size and bright luminescence of NanoLuc to engineer a new complementation reporter (NanoBiT). By design, the NanoBiT subunits (i.e., 1.3 kDa peptide, 18 kDa polypeptide) weakly associate so that their assembly into a luminescent complex is dictated by the interaction characteristics of the target proteins onto which they are appended. To ascertain their general suitability for measuring interaction affinities and kinetics, we determined that their intrinsic affinity (K D = 190 μM) and association constants (k on = 500 M–1 s–1, k off = 0.2 s–1) are outside of the ranges typical for protein interactions. The accuracy of NanoBiT was verified under defined biochemical conditions using the previously characterized interaction between SME-1 β-lactamase and a set of inhibitor binding proteins. In cells, NanoBiT fusions to FRB/FKBP produced luminescence consistent with the linear characteristics of NanoLuc. Response dynamics, evaluated using both protein kinase A and β-arrestin-2, were rapid, reversible, and robust to temperature (21–37 °C). Finally, NanoBiT provided a means to measure pharmacology of kinase inhibitors known to induce the interaction between BRAF and CRAF. Our results demonstrate that the intrinsic properties of NanoBiT allow accurate representation of protein interactions and that the reporter responds reliably and dynamically in cells.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) have been studied for three decades, and yet a molecular understanding of their mechanism of action is still lacking. Here we summarize current knowledge for both synthetic vesicle experiments and microbe experiments, with a focus on comparisons between the two. Microbial experiments are done at peptide to lipid ratios that are at least 4 orders of magnitude higher than vesicle-based experiments. To close the gap between the two concentration regimes, we propose an “interfacial activity model”, which is based on an experimentally testable molecular image of AMP–membrane interactions. The interfacial activity model may be useful in driving engineering and design of novel AMPs.
Over the past 15 years protein kinases have become the pharmaceutical industry's most important class of drug target in the field of cancer. Some 20 drugs that target kinases have been approved for clinical use over the past decade, and hundreds more are undergoing clinical trials. However, the recent approval of the first protein kinase inhibitors for the treatment of inflammatory diseases, coupled with an enhanced understanding of the signaling networks that control the immune system, suggests that there will be a surge of interest in this area over the next 10 years. In this connection, we discuss opportunities for targeting protein kinases in the MyD88 signaling network for the development of drugs to treat chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Activating mutations in protein kinases underlie many other diseases and conditions, and we also discuss why the protein kinases SPAK/OSR1 and LRRK2 have recently become interesting targets for the treatment of hypertension and Parkinson's disease, respectively, and the progress that has been made in developing LRRK2 inhibitors. Finally we suggest that more focus on the identification of inhibitors of kinase activation, rather than kinase activity, may pay dividends in identifying exquisitely specific inhibitors of signal transduction cascades, and we also highlight "pseudo-kinases" as an attractive and unexplored area for drug development that merits much more attention in the years to come.
The high cost of enzymes for saccharification of lignocellulosic biomass is a major barrier to the production of second generation biofuels. Using a combination of genetic and biochemical techniques, we report that filamentous fungi use oxidative enzymes to cleave glycosidic bonds in cellulose. Deletion of cdh-1, the gene encoding the major cellobiose dehydrogenase of Neurospora crassa, reduced cellulase activity substantially, and addition of purified cellobiose dehydrogenases from M. thermophila to the Δcdh-1 strain resulted in a 1.6- to 2.0-fold stimulation in cellulase activity. Addition of cellobiose dehydrogenase to a mixture of purified cellulases showed no stimulatory effect. We show that cellobiose dehydrogenase enhances cellulose degradation by coupling the oxidation of cellobiose to the reductive activation of copper-dependent polysaccharide monooxygenases (PMOs) that catalyze the insertion of oxygen into C–H bonds adjacent to the glycosidic linkage. Three of these PMOs were characterized and shown to have different regiospecifities resulting in oxidized products modified at either the reducing or nonreducing end of a glucan chain. In contrast to previous models where oxidative enzymes were thought to produce reactive oxygen species that randomly attacked the substrate, the data here support a direct, enzyme-catalyzed oxidation of cellulose. Cellobiose dehydrogenases and proteins related to the polysaccharide monooxygenases described here are found throughout both ascomycete and basidiomycete fungi, suggesting that this model for oxidative cellulose degradation may be widespread throughout the fungal kingdom. When added to mixtures of cellulases, these proteins enhance cellulose saccharification, suggesting that they could be used to reduce the cost of biofuel production.
Dynamic interactions between proteins comprise a key mechanism for temporal control of cellular function and thus hold promise for development of novel drug therapies. It remains technically challenging, however, to quantitatively characterize these interactions within the biologically relevant context of living cells. Although, bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) has often been used for this purpose, its general applicability has been hindered by limited sensitivity and dynamic range. We have addressed this by combining an extremely bright luciferase (Nanoluc) with a means for tagging intracellular proteins with a long-wavelength fluorophore (HaloTag). The small size (19 kDa), high emission intensity, and relatively narrow spectrum (460 nm peak intensity) make Nanoluc luciferase well suited as an energy donor. By selecting an efficient red-emitting fluorophore (635 nm peak intensity) for attachment onto the HaloTag, an overall spectral separation exceeding 175 nm was achieved. This combination of greater light intensity with improved spectral resolution results in substantially increased detection sensitivity and dynamic range over current BRET technologies. Enhanced performance is demonstrated using several established model systems, as well as the ability to image BRET in individual cells. The capabilities are further exhibited in a novel assay developed for analyzing the interactions of bromodomain proteins with chromatin in living cells.
Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is a transcription factor that regulates the expression of genes related to cell cycle, cell survival, and immune response associated with cancer progression and malignancy in a number of cancer types. Once activated, STAT3 forms a homodimer and translocates to the nucleus where it binds DNA promoting the translation of target genes associated with antiapoptosis, angiogenesis, and invasion/migration. In normal cells, levels of activated STAT3 remain transient; however, STAT3 remains constitutively active in approximately 70% of human solid tumors. The pivotal role of STAT3 in tumor progression has promoted a campaign in drug discovery to identify small molecules that disrupt the function of STAT3. A range of approaches have been used to identify novel small molecule inhibitors of STAT3, including high-throughput screening of chemical libraries, computational-based virtual screening, and fragment-based design strategies. The most common approaches in targeting STAT3 activity are either via the inhibition of tyrosine kinases capable of phosphorylating and thereby activating STAT3 or by preventing the formation of functional STAT3 dimers through disruption of the SH2 domains. However, the targeting of the STAT3 DNA-binding domain and disruption of binding of STAT3 to its DNA promoter have not been thoroughly examined, mainly due to the lack of adequate assay systems. This review summarizes the development of STAT3 inhibitors organized by the approach used to inhibit STAT3, the current inhibitors of each class, and the assay systems used to evaluate STAT3 inhibition and offers an insight into future approaches for small molecule STAT3 inhibitor development.
Pan-Assay Interference Compounds (PAINS) are very familiar to medicinal chemists who have spent time fruitlessly trying to optimize these nonprogressible compounds. Electronic filters formulated to recognize PAINS can process hundreds and thousands of compounds in seconds and are in widespread current use to identify PAINS in order to exclude them from further analysis. However, this practice is fraught with danger because such black box treatment is simplistic. Here, we outline for the first time all necessary considerations for the appropriate use of PAINS filters.
Peptide-based drug discovery has experienced a significant upturn within the past decade since the introduction of chemical modifications and :unnatural amino acids has allowed for overcoming some of the drawbacks associated with peptide therapeutics. Strengthened by such features, modified peptides become capable of occupying,a niche that emerges between the two major classes of today's therapeutics-small molecules (5000 Da), Stabilized a-helices have proven particularly successful at impairing disease-relevant PPIs previously considered "undruggable.", Among those, hydrocarbon stapled alpha-helical peptides have emerged as a novel class of potential peptide therapeutics: This review provides a comprehensive overview of the development and applications of hydrocarbon stapled peptides discussing the benefits and limitations of this technique.
We have designed a modular protein tagging system that allows different functionalities to be linked onto a single genetic fusion, either in solution, in living cells, or in chemically fixed cells. The protein tag (HaloTag) is a modified haloalkane dehalogenase designed to covalently bind to synthetic ligands (HaloTag ligands). The synthetic ligands comprise a chloroalkane linker attached to a variety of useful molecules, such as fluorescent dyes, affinity handles, or solid surfaces. Covalent bond formation between the protein tag and the chloroalkane linker is highly specific, occurs rapidly under physiological conditions, and is essentially irreversible. We demonstrate the utility of this system for cellular imaging and protein immobilization by analyzing multiple molecular processes associated with NF-κB-mediated cellular physiology, including imaging of subcellular protein translocation and capture of protein−protein and protein−DNA complexes.
Because RNA lacks strong intrinsic fluorescence, it has proven challenging to track RNA molecules in real time. To address this problem and to allow the purification of fluorescently tagged RNA complexes, we have selected a high affinity RNA aptamer called RNA Mango. This aptamer binds a series of thiazole orange (fluorophore) derivatives with nanomolar affinity, while increasing fluorophore fluorescence by up to 1,100-fold. Visualization of RNA Mango by single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, together with injection and imaging of RNA Mango/fluorophore complex in C. elegans gonads demonstrates the potential for live-cell RNA imaging with this system. By inserting RNA Mango into a stem loop of the bacterial 6S RNA and biotinylating the fluorophore, we demonstrate that the aptamer can be used to simultaneously fluorescently label and purify biologically important RNAs. The high affinity and fluorescent properties of RNA Mango are therefore expected to simplify the study of RNA complexes.