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1.  Discovery of NCT-501, a Potent and Selective Theophylline-Based Inhibitor of Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 1A1 (ALDH1A1) 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2015;58(15):5967-5978.
Aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs) metabolize reactive aldehydes and possess important physiological and toxicological functions in areas such as CNS, metabolic disorders, and cancers. Increased ALDH (e.g., ALDH1A1) gene expression and catalytic activity are vital biomarkers in a number of malignancies and cancer stem cells, highlighting the need for the identification and development of small molecule ALDH inhibitors. A new series of theophylline-based analogs as potent ALDH1A1 inhibitors is described. The optimization of hits identified from a quantitative high throughput screening (qHTS) campaign led to analogs with improved potency and early ADME properties. This chemotype exhibits highly selective inhibition against ALDH1A1 over ALDH3A1, ALDH1B1, and ALDH2 isozymes as well as other dehydrogenases such as HPGD and HSD17β4. Moreover, the pharmacokinetic evaluation of selected analog 64 (NCT-501) is also highlighted.
Graphical Abstract
PMCID: PMC5185321  PMID: 26207746
2.  Identification of Novel Anti-Hepatitis C Virus Agents by a Quantitative High Throughput Screen in a Cell-Based Infection Assay 
Antiviral research  2015;124:20-29.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) poses a major health threat to the world. The recent development of direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) against HCV has markedly improved the response rate of HCV and reduced the side effects in comparison to the interferon-based therapy. Despite this therapeutic advance, there is still a need to develop new inhibitors that target different stages of the HCV life cycle because of various limitations of the current regimens. In this study, we performed a quantitative high-throughput screening of the Molecular Libraries Small Molecule Repository (MLSMR) of ~ 350,000 chemicals for novel HCV inhibitors using our previously developed cell-based HCV infection assay. Following confirmation and structural clustering analysis, we narrowed down to 158 compounds from the initial ~ 3,000 molecules that showed inhibitory activity for further structural and functional analyses. We were able to assign the majority of these compounds to specific stage(s) in the HCV life cycle. Three of them are direct inhibitors of NS3/4A protease. Most of the compounds appear to act on novel targets in HCV life cycle. Four compounds with novel structure and excellent drug-like properties, three targeting HCV entry and one targeting HCV assembly/secretion, were advanced for further development as lead hits. These compounds represent diverse chemotypes that are potential lead compounds for further optimization and may offer promising candidates for the development of novel therapeutics against HCV infection. In addition, they represent novel molecular probes to explore the complex interactions between HCV and the cells.
PMCID: PMC4684727  PMID: 26515788
antiviral; HCV inhibitors; high throughput screening; cell-based assay; viral life cycle
3.  mQC: A Heuristic Quality-Control Metric for High-Throughput Drug Combination Screening 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:37741.
Quality control (QC) metrics are critical in high throughput screening (HTS) platforms to ensure reliability and confidence in assay data and downstream analyses. Most reported HTS QC metrics are designed for plate level or single well level analysis. With the advent of high throughput combination screening there is a need for QC metrics that quantify the quality of combination response matrices. We introduce a predictive, interpretable, matrix-level QC metric, mQC, based on a mix of data-derived and heuristic features. mQC accurately reproduces the expert assessment of combination response quality and correctly identifies unreliable response matrices that can lead to erroneous or misleading characterization of synergy. When combined with the plate-level QC metric, Z’, mQC provides a more appropriate determination of the quality of a drug combination screen. Retrospective analysis on a number of completed combination screens further shows that mQC is able to identify problematic screens whereas plate-level QC was not able to. In conclusion, our data indicates that mQC is a reliable QC filter that can be used to identify problematic drug combinations matrices and prevent further analysis on erroneously active combinations as well as for troubleshooting failed screens. The R source code of mQC is available at
PMCID: PMC5121902  PMID: 27883049
4.  ML372 blocks SMN ubiquitination and improves spinal muscular atrophy pathology in mice 
JCI Insight  null;1(19):e88427.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disease and one of the leading inherited causes of infant mortality. SMA results from insufficient levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein, and studies in animal models of the disease have shown that increasing SMN protein levels ameliorates the disease phenotype. Our group previously identified and optimized a new series of small molecules, with good potency and toxicity profiles and reasonable pharmacokinetics, that were able to increase SMN protein levels in SMA patient–derived cells. We show here that ML372, a representative of this series, almost doubles the half-life of residual SMN protein expressed from the SMN2 locus by blocking its ubiquitination and subsequent degradation by the proteasome. ML372 increased SMN protein levels in muscle, spinal cord, and brain tissue of SMA mice. Importantly, ML372 treatment improved the righting reflex and extended survival of a severe mouse model of SMA. These results demonstrate that slowing SMN degradation by selectively inhibiting its ubiquitination can improve the motor phenotype and lifespan of SMA model mice.
Inhibiting the ubiquitination and degradation of survival motor neuron protein improves motor function and extends lifespan in a severe mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy.
PMCID: PMC5111506  PMID: 27882347
5.  Cancer network activity associated with therapeutic response and synergism 
Genome Medicine  2016;8(1):88.
Cancer patients often show no or only modest benefit from a given therapy. This major problem in oncology is generally attributed to the lack of specific predictive biomarkers, yet a global measure of cancer cell activity may support a comprehensive mechanistic understanding of therapy efficacy. We reasoned that network analysis of omic data could help to achieve this goal.
A measure of “cancer network activity” (CNA) was implemented based on a previously defined network feature of communicability. The network nodes and edges corresponded to human proteins and experimentally identified interactions, respectively. The edges were weighted proportionally to the expression of the genes encoding for the corresponding proteins and relative to the number of direct interactors. The gene expression data corresponded to the basal conditions of 595 human cancer cell lines. Therapeutic responses corresponded to the impairment of cell viability measured by the half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) of 130 drugs approved or under clinical development. Gene ontology, signaling pathway, and transcription factor-binding annotations were taken from public repositories. Predicted synergies were assessed by determining the viability of four breast cancer cell lines and by applying two different analytical methods.
The effects of drug classes were associated with CNAs formed by different cell lines. CNAs also differentiate target families and effector pathways. Proteins that occupy a central position in the network largely contribute to CNA. Known key cancer-associated biological processes, signaling pathways, and master regulators also contribute to CNA. Moreover, the major cancer drivers frequently mediate CNA and therapeutic differences. Cell-based assays centered on these differences and using uncorrelated drug effects reveals novel synergistic combinations for the treatment of breast cancer dependent on PI3K-mTOR signaling.
Cancer therapeutic responses can be predicted on the basis of a systems-level analysis of molecular interactions and gene expression. Fundamental cancer processes, pathways, and drivers contribute to this feature, which can also be exploited to predict precise synergistic drug combinations.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13073-016-0340-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4995628  PMID: 27553366
Cancer; Network; Therapy; Synergy
6.  Chemical Screens Identify Drugs that Enhance or Mitigate Cellular Responses to Antibody-Toxin Fusion Proteins 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(8):e0161415.
The intersection of small molecular weight drugs and antibody-based therapeutics is rarely studied in large scale. Both types of agents are currently part of the cancer armamentarium. However, very little is known about how to combine them in optimal ways. Immunotoxins are antibody-toxin gene fusion proteins engineered to target cancer cells via antibody binding to surface antigens. For fusion proteins derived from Pseudomonas exotoxin (PE), potency relies on the enzymatic domain of the toxin which catalyzes the ADP-ribosylation of EF2 causing inhibition of protein synthesis leading to cell death. Candidate immunotoxins have demonstrated clear value in clinical trials but generally have not been curative as single agents. Therefore we undertook three screens to discover effective combinations that could act synergistically. From the MIPE-3 library of compounds we identified various enhancers of immunotoxin action and at least one major class of inhibitor. Follow-up experiments confirmed the screening data and suggested that immunotoxins when administered with everolimus or nilotinib exhibit favorable combinatory activity and would be candidates for preclinical development. Mechanistic studies revealed that everolimus-immunotoxin combinations acted synergistically on elements of the protein synthetic machinery, including S61 kinase and 4E-BP1 of the mTORC1 pathway. Conversely, PARP inhibitors antagonized immunotoxins and also blocked the toxicity due to native ADP-ribosylating toxins. Thus, our goal of investigating a chemical library was justified based on the identification of several approved compounds that could be developed preclinically as ‘enhancers’ and at least one class of mitigator to be avoided.
PMCID: PMC4996465  PMID: 27556570
7.  MCOLN1 is a ROS sensor in lysosomes that regulates autophagy 
Nature Communications  2016;7:12109.
Cellular stresses trigger autophagy to remove damaged macromolecules and organelles. Lysosomes ‘host' multiple stress-sensing mechanisms that trigger the coordinated biogenesis of autophagosomes and lysosomes. For example, transcription factor (TF)EB, which regulates autophagy and lysosome biogenesis, is activated following the inhibition of mTOR, a lysosome-localized nutrient sensor. Here we show that reactive oxygen species (ROS) activate TFEB via a lysosomal Ca2+-dependent mechanism independent of mTOR. Exogenous oxidants or increasing mitochondrial ROS levels directly and specifically activate lysosomal TRPML1 channels, inducing lysosomal Ca2+ release. This activation triggers calcineurin-dependent TFEB-nuclear translocation, autophagy induction and lysosome biogenesis. When TRPML1 is genetically inactivated or pharmacologically inhibited, clearance of damaged mitochondria and removal of excess ROS are blocked. Furthermore, TRPML1's ROS sensitivity is specifically required for lysosome adaptation to mitochondrial damage. Hence, TRPML1 is a ROS sensor localized on the lysosomal membrane that orchestrates an autophagy-dependent negative-feedback programme to mitigate oxidative stress in the cell.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) damage cell components, necessitating their clearance through autophagy. Here, the authors show that ROS can induce autophagy by triggering TRPML1 to release Ca2+ from the lysosomal lumen, in turn activating the autophagy and lysosomal biogenesis regulator TFEB.
PMCID: PMC4931332  PMID: 27357649
8.  Efficacy and Mechanism of Action of Low Dose Emetine against Human Cytomegalovirus 
PLoS Pathogens  2016;12(6):e1005717.
Infection with human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a threat for pregnant women and immunocompromised hosts. Although limited drugs are available, development of new agents against HCMV is desired. Through screening of the LOPAC library, we identified emetine as HCMV inhibitor. Additional studies confirmed its anti-HCMV activities in human foreskin fibroblasts: EC50−40±1.72 nM, CC50−8±0.56 μM, and selectivity index of 200. HCMV inhibition occurred after virus entry, but before DNA replication, and resulted in decreased expression of viral proteins. Synergistic virus inhibition was achieved when emetine was combined with ganciclovir. In a mouse CMV (MCMV) model, emetine was well-tolerated, displayed long half-life, preferential distribution to tissues over plasma, and effectively suppressed MCMV. Since the in vitro anti-HCMV activity of emetine decreased significantly in low-density cells, a mechanism involving cell cycle regulation was suspected. HCMV inhibition by emetine depended on ribosomal processing S14 (RPS14) binding to MDM2, leading to disruption of HCMV-induced MDM2-p53 and MDM2-IE2 interactions. Irrespective of cell density, emetine induced RPS14 translocation into the nucleus during infection. In infected high-density cells, MDM2 was available for interaction with RPS14, resulting in disruption of MDM2-p53 interaction. However, in low-density cells the pre-existing interaction of MDM2-p53 could not be disrupted, and RPS14 could not interact with MDM2. In high-density cells the interaction of MDM2-RPS14 resulted in ubiquitination and degradation of RPS14, which was not observed in low-density cells. In infected-only or in non-infected emetine-treated cells, RPS14 failed to translocate into the nucleus, hence could not interact with MDM2, and was not ubiquitinated. HCMV replicated similarly in RPS14 knockdown or control cells, but emetine did not inhibit virus replication in the former cell line. The interaction of MDM2-p53 was maintained in infected RPS14 knockdown cells despite emetine treatment, confirming a unique mechanism by which emetine exploits RPS14 to disrupt MDM2-p53 interaction. Summarized, emetine may represent a promising candidate for HCMV therapy alone or in combination with ganciclovir through a novel host-dependent mechanism.
Author Summary
Infection with human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a growing and pressing problem, creating ongoing management and therapeutic challenges. Despite the availability of DNA polymerase inhibitors, development of new strategies for HCMV therapy is needed. We report for the first time on the efficacy of an old drug (emetine) against HCMV in vitro and mouse CMV in vivo, using exceedingly low drug doses. We also provide evidence for a specific host-dependent anti-CMV mechanism of emetine in vitro, thus uncovering a cellular function that can be further studied for drug development. Our work provides a novel direction for HCMV therapeutics through repurposing of an old agent, at substantially lower doses, and inhibiting HCMV indirectly through host activities critical for virus replication.
PMCID: PMC4919066  PMID: 27336364
9.  Identification and optimization of small-molecule agonists of the human relaxin hormone receptor RXFP1 
Nature communications  2013;4:1953.
The anti-fibrotic, vasodilatory, and pro-angiogenic therapeutic properties of recombinant relaxin peptide hormone have been investigated in several diseases and recent clinical trial data has shown benefit in treating acute heart failure. However, the remodeling capacity of these peptide hormones is difficult to study in chronic settings due to their short half-life and the need for intravenous administration. Here we present the first small-molecule series of human relaxin receptor 1 (RXFP1) agonists. These molecules display similar efficacy as the natural hormone in several functional assays. Mutagenesis studies indicate that the small molecules activate relaxin receptor through an allosteric site. These compounds have excellent physical and in vivo pharmacokinetic properties to support further investigation of relaxin biology and animal efficacy studies of the therapeutic benefits of RXFP1 activation.
PMCID: PMC4915074  PMID: 23764525
11.  Identification of small molecule agonists of human relaxin family receptor 1 (RXFP1) by utilizing a homogenous cell-based cAMP assay 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2012;18(6):670-677.
The relaxin hormone is involved in a variety of biological functions including female reproduction and parturition, regulation of cardiovascular, renal, pulmonary, and hepatic functions. It regulates extracellular matrix remodeling, cell invasiveness, proliferation, differentiation, and overall tissue homeostasis. The G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) RXFP1, relaxin family receptor 1, is a cognate relaxin receptor that mainly signals through cyclic AMP second messenger. While agonists of the receptor could have a wide range of pharmacological utility, up to date, there are no reported small molecule agonists for relaxin receptors. Here, we report the development of quantitative high-throughput platform for RXFP1 agonist screen based on homogenous cell-based HTRF cAMP assay technology. Two small molecules of similar structure were independently identified from a screen of more than 365,677 compounds. Neither compound showed activity in a counter screen with HEK293T cells transfected with an unrelated GPCR vasopressin 1b receptor. These small molecule agonists also demonstrated selectivity against the RXFP2 receptor, providing a basis for future medicinal chemistry optimization of selective relaxin receptor agonists.
PMCID: PMC4804196  PMID: 23212924
relaxin; GPCR; RXFP1; qHTS; agonist; small molecule
12.  Discovery, Optimization, and Characterization of Novel Chlorcyclizine Derivatives for the Treatment of Hepatitis C Virus Infection 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2015;59(3):841-853.
Recently, we reported that chlorcyclizine (CCZ, Rac-2), an over-the-counter antihistamine piperazine drug, possesses in vitro and in vivo activity against hepatitis C virus. Here, we describe structure–activity relationship (SAR) efforts that resulted in the optimization of novel chlorcyclizine derivatives as anti-HCV agents. Several compounds exhibited EC50 values below 10 nM against HCV infection, cytotoxicity selectivity indices above 2000, and showed improved in vivo pharmacokinetic properties. The optimized molecules can serve as lead preclinical candidates for the treatment of hepatitis C virus infection and as probes to study hepatitis C virus pathogenesis and host–virus interaction.
PMCID: PMC4753534  PMID: 26599718
14.  Aurora B kinase is a potent and selective target in MYCN-driven neuroblastoma 
Oncotarget  2015;6(34):35247-35262.
Despite advances in multimodal treatment, neuroblastoma (NB) is often fatal for children with high-risk disease and many survivors need to cope with long-term side effects from high-dose chemotherapy and radiation. To identify new therapeutic targets, we performed an siRNA screen of the druggable genome combined with a small molecule screen of 465 compounds targeting 39 different mechanisms of actions in four NB cell lines. We identified 58 genes as targets, including AURKB, in at least one cell line. In the drug screen, aurora kinase inhibitors (nine molecules) and in particular the AURKB-selective compound, barasertib, were the most discriminatory with regard to sensitivity for MYCN-amplified cell lines. In an expanded panel of ten NB cell lines, those with MYCN-amplification and wild-type TP53 were the most sensitive to low nanomolar concentrations of barasertib. Inhibition of the AURKB kinase activity resulted in decreased phosphorylation of the known target, histone H3, and upregulation of TP53 in MYCN-amplified, TP53 wild-type cells. However, both wild-type and TP53 mutant MYCN-amplified cell lines arrested in G2/M phase upon AURKB inhibition. Additionally, barasertib induced endoreduplication and apoptosis. Treatment of MYCN-amplified/TP53 wild-type neuroblastoma xenografts resulted in profound growth inhibition and tumor regression. Therefore, aurora B kinase inhibition is highly effective in aggressive neuroblastoma and warrants further investigation in clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC4742102  PMID: 26497213
neuroblastoma; MYCN; AURKB; high-throughput screening; barasertib
15.  High-throughput matrix screening identifies synergistic and antagonistic antimalarial drug combinations 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:13891.
Drug resistance in Plasmodium parasites is a constant threat. Novel therapeutics, especially new drug combinations, must be identified at a faster rate. In response to the urgent need for new antimalarial drug combinations we screened a large collection of approved and investigational drugs, tested 13,910 drug pairs, and identified many promising antimalarial drug combinations. The activity of known antimalarial drug regimens was confirmed and a myriad of new classes of positively interacting drug pairings were discovered. Network and clustering analyses reinforced established mechanistic relationships for known drug combinations and identified several novel mechanistic hypotheses. From eleven screens comprising >4,600 combinations per parasite strain (including duplicates) we further investigated interactions between approved antimalarials, calcium homeostasis modulators, and inhibitors of phosphatidylinositide 3-kinases (PI3K) and the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). These studies highlight important targets and pathways and provide promising leads for clinically actionable antimalarial therapy.
PMCID: PMC4585899  PMID: 26403635
16.  Meeting report: discussions and preliminary findings on extracellular RNA measurement methods from laboratories in the NIH Extracellular RNA Communication Consortium 
Journal of Extracellular Vesicles  2015;4:10.3402/jev.v4.26533.
Extracellular RNAs (exRNAs) have been identified in all tested biofluids and have been associated with a variety of extracellular vesicles, ribonucleoprotein complexes and lipoprotein complexes. Much of the interest in exRNAs lies in the fact that they may serve as signalling molecules between cells, their potential to serve as biomarkers for prediction and diagnosis of disease and the possibility that exRNAs or the extracellular particles that carry them might be used for therapeutic purposes. Among the most significant bottlenecks to progress in this field is the lack of robust and standardized methods for collection and processing of biofluids, separation of different types of exRNA-containing particles and isolation and analysis of exRNAs. The Sample and Assay Standards Working Group of the Extracellular RNA Communication Consortium is a group of laboratories funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop such methods. In our first joint endeavour, we held a series of conference calls and in-person meetings to survey the methods used among our members, placed them in the context of the current literature and used our findings to identify areas in which the identification of robust methodologies would promote rapid advancements in the exRNA field.
PMCID: PMC4553263  PMID: 26320937
extracellular RNA; extracellular vesicles; exosomes; microvesicles; RNA sequencing
18.  Quantitative high throughput screening using a primary human three-dimensional organotypic culture predicts in vivo efficacy 
Nature communications  2015;6:6220.
The tumour microenvironment contributes to cancer metastasis and drug resistance. However, most high throughput screening (HTS) assays for drug discovery use cancer cells grown in monolayers. Here we show that a multilayered culture containing primary human fibroblasts, mesothelial cells and extracellular matrix can be adapted into a reliable 384- and 1,536-multi-well HTS assay that reproduces the human ovarian cancer (OvCa) metastatic microenvironment. We validate the identified inhibitors in secondary in vitro and in vivo biological assays using three OvCa cell lines: HeyA8, SKOV3ip1 and Tyk-nu. The active compounds directly inhibit at least two of the three OvCa functions: adhesion, invasion and growth. In vivo, these compounds prevent OvCa adhesion, invasion and metastasis, and improve survival in mouse models. Collectively, these data indicate that a complex three-dimensional culture of the tumour microenvironment can be adapted for quantitative HTS and may improve the disease relevance of assays used for drug screening.
PMCID: PMC4427252  PMID: 25653139
19.  Small molecule, NSC95397, inhibits the CtBP1-protein partner interaction and CtBP1-mediated transcriptional repression 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2014;20(5):663-672.
Carboxyl-terminal binding protein (CtBP) is a transcriptional co-repressor that suppresses multiple pro-apoptotic and epithelial genes. CtBP is overexpressed in many human cancers and its overexpression increases stem cell-like features, epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and cancer cell survival. Knockdown of CtBP increases apoptosis independent of p53 and dramatically inhibits tumorigenesis in mouse models. Therefore, targeting CtBP with small molecules that disrupt its interaction with transcription factor partners may be an effective cancer therapy. To elicit its co-repressing effect, CtBP binds to a conserved peptide motif in each transcription factor partner. We developed an AlphaScreen high throughput screening assay to monitor the interaction between CtBP and E1A (which mimics the interaction between CtBP and its transcriptional partners). We screened the LOPAC library of 1280 bioactive compounds and identified NSC95397, which inhibits the CtBP-E1A interaction (IC50 = 2.9 μM). The inhibitory activity of NSC95397 was confirmed using two secondary assays and a counterscreen. NSC95397 also behaved as a weak substrate of CtBP dehydrogenase activity and did not inhibit another dehydrogenase, LDH. Finally, NSC95397 was able to disrupt CtBP-mediated transcriptional repression of a target gene. These studies present a new possibility for the development of a therapeutic agent targeting tumors through disrupting the CtBP transcriptional complex.
PMCID: PMC4486263  PMID: 25477201
CtBP1; NSC95397; E1A; AlphaScreen; Protein-Protein Interaction
21.  An Intracellular Ca2+ Channel is Required For Sarcolemma Repair to Prevent Muscular Dystrophy 
Nature medicine  2014;20(10):1187-1192.
The integrity of the plasma membrane is maintained through an active repair process, especially for skeletal and cardiac muscle cells, in which contraction-induced mechanical damage frequently occurs in vivo1,2. Muscular dystrophies (MDs) are a group of muscle diseases characterized by skeletal muscle wasting and weakness3,4. An important cause of MD is defective repair of sarcolemmal injuries, and sarcolemma repair requires Ca2+ sensor proteins5–8 and Ca2+-dependent delivery of intracellular vesicles to injury sites5,8,9. TRPML1 (ML1) is an endosomal and lysosomal Ca2+ channel and its human mutations cause Mucolipidosis IV, a neurodegenerative disease with motor disabilities10,11. Here, we report that ML1-null mice develop a primary, early-onset muscular dystrophy independent of neural degeneration. Although the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex and the known membrane repair proteins are normally expressed, membrane resealing was defective in ML1-null muscle fibers or upon acute and pharmacological inhibition of ML1 channel activity or vesicular Ca2+ release. Injury facilitated the trafficking and exocytosis of vesicles by upmodulating ML1 channel activity. In the dystrophic mdx mouse model, overexpression of ML1 decreased muscle pathology. Collectively, we have identified an intracellular Ca2+ channel that regulates membrane repair in skeletal muscle via Ca2+-dependent vesicle exocytosis.
PMCID: PMC4192061  PMID: 25216637
Membrane repair; Ca2+; TRP channel; lysosome
22.  Discovery, Optimization, and Characterization of Novel D2 Dopamine Receptor Selective Antagonists 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(8):3450-3463.
The D2 dopamine receptor (D2 DAR) is one of the most validated drug targets for neuropsychiatric and endocrine disorders. However, clinically approved drugs targeting D2 DAR display poor selectivity between the D2 and other receptors, especially the D3 DAR. This lack of selectivity may lead to undesirable side effects. Here we describe the chemical and pharmacological characterization of a novel D2 DAR antagonist series with excellent D2 versus D1, D3, D4, and D5 receptor selectivity. The final probe 65 was obtained through a quantitative high-throughput screening campaign, followed by medicinal chemistry optimization, to yield a selective molecule with good in vitro physical properties, metabolic stability, and in vivo pharmacokinetics. The optimized molecule may be a useful in vivo probe for studying D2 DAR signal modulation and could also serve as a lead compound for the development of D2 DAR-selective druglike molecules for the treatment of multiple neuropsychiatric and endocrine disorders.
PMCID: PMC4315423  PMID: 24666157
23.  Pathway-Based Analysis of Genome-Wide siRNA Screens Reveals the Regulatory Landscape of App Processing 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(2):e0115369.
The progressive aggregation of Amyloid-β (Aβ) in the brain is a major trait of Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Aβ is produced as a result of proteolytic processing of the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP). Processing of APP is mediated by multiple enzymes, resulting in the production of distinct peptide products: the non-amyloidogenic peptide sAPPα and the amyloidogenic peptides sAPPβ, Aβ40, and Aβ42. Using a pathway-based approach, we analyzed a large-scale siRNA screen that measured the production of different APP proteolytic products. Our analysis identified many of the biological processes/pathways that are known to regulate APP processing and have been implicated in AD pathogenesis, as well as revealing novel regulatory mechanisms. Furthermore, we also demonstrate that some of these processes differentially regulate APP processing, with some mechanisms favouring production of certain peptide species over others. For example, synaptic transmission having a bias towards regulating Aβ40 production over Aβ42 as well as processes involved in insulin and pancreatic biology having a bias for sAPPβ production over sAPPα. In addition, some of the pathways identified as regulators of APP processing contain genes (CLU, BIN1, CR1, PICALM, TREM2, SORL1, MEF2C, DSG2, EPH1A) recently implicated with AD through genome wide association studies (GWAS) and associated meta-analysis. In addition, we provide supporting evidence and a deeper mechanistic understanding of the role of diabetes in AD. The identification of these processes/pathways, their differential impact on APP processing, and their relationships to each other, provide a comprehensive systems biology view of the “regulatory landscape” of APP.
PMCID: PMC4344212  PMID: 25723573
24.  A Multiplex High-Throughput Gene Expression Assay to Simultaneously Detect Disease and Functional Markers in Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Retinal Pigment Epithelium 
This study used a multiplex high-throughput gene expression assay that simultaneously detects endogenous expression of multiple developmental, functional, and disease markers in induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell-derived retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This assay provides the basis to screen for compounds that improve RPE function and maturation and target disease pathways, thus providing the basis for effective treatments of several retinal degenerative diseases.
There is continuing interest in the development of lineage-specific cells from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for use in cell therapies and drug discovery. Although in most cases differentiated cells show features of the desired lineage, they retain fetal gene expression and do not fully mature into “adult-like” cells. Such cells may not serve as an effective therapy because, once implanted, immature cells pose the risk of uncontrolled growth. Therefore, there is a need to optimize lineage-specific stem cell differentiation protocols to produce cells that no longer express fetal genes and have attained “adult-like” phenotypes. Toward that goal, it is critical to develop assays that simultaneously measure cell function and disease markers in high-throughput format. Here, we use a multiplex high-throughput gene expression assay that simultaneously detects endogenous expression of multiple developmental, functional, and disease markers in iPS cell-derived retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). We optimized protocols to differentiate iPS cell-derived RPE that was then grown in 96- and 384-well plates. As a proof of principle, we demonstrate differential expression of eight genes in iPS cells, iPS cell-derived RPE at two different differentiation stages, and primary human RPE using this multiplex assay. The data obtained from the multiplex gene expression assay are significantly correlated with standard quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction-based measurements, confirming the ability of this high-throughput assay to measure relevant gene expression changes. This assay provides the basis to screen for compounds that improve RPE function and maturation and target disease pathways, thus providing the basis for effective treatments of several retinal degenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC4116245  PMID: 24873859
Gene expression; Reprogramming; Retina; Stem cell; Induced pluripotency; iPS; Retinal pigmented epithelium
25.  Activation of Relaxin Family Receptor 1 from Different Mammalian Species by Relaxin Peptide and Small-Molecule Agonist ML290 
Relaxin peptide (RLN), which signals through the relaxin family peptide 1 (RXFP1) GPCR receptor, has shown therapeutic effects in an acute heart failure clinical trial. We have identified a small-molecule agonist of human RXFP1, ML290; however, it does not activate the mouse receptor. To find a suitable animal model for ML290 testing and to gain mechanistic insights into the interaction of various ligands with RXFP1, we have cloned rhesus macaque, pig, rabbit, and guinea pig RXFP1s and analyzed their activation by RLN and ML290. HEK293T cells expressing macaque or pig RXFP1 responded to relaxin and ML290 treatment as measured by an increase of cAMP production. Guinea pig RXFP1 responded to relaxin but had very low response to ML290 treatment only at highest concentrations used. The rabbit RXFP1 amino acid sequence was the most divergent, with a number of unique substitutions within the ectodomain and the seven-transmembrane domain (7TM). Two splice variants of rabbit RXFP1 derived through alternative splicing of the fourth exon were identified. In contrast to the other species, rabbit RXFP1s were activated by ML290, but not with human, pig, mouse, or rabbit RLNs. Using FLAG-tagged constructs, we have shown that both rabbit RXFP1 variants are expressed on the cell surface. No binding of human Eu-labeled RLN to rabbit RXFP1 was detected, suggesting that in this species, RXFP1 might be non-functional. We used chimeric rabbit–human and guinea pig–human constructs to identify regions important for RLN or ML290 receptor activation. Chimeras with the human ectodomain and rabbit 7TM domain were activated by RLN, whereas substitution of part of the guinea pig 7TM domain with the human sequence only partially restored ML290 activation, confirming the allosteric mode of action for the two ligands. Our data demonstrate that macaque and pig models can be used for ML290 testing.
PMCID: PMC4538381  PMID: 26347712
relaxin; G protein-coupled receptor; RXFP1; receptor structure–function; small-molecule allosteric agonist

Results 1-25 (46)