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1.  BM-1197: A Novel and Specific Bcl-2/Bcl-xL Inhibitor Inducing Complete and Long-Lasting Tumor Regression In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99404.
Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL are critical regulators of apoptosis that are overexpressed in a variety of human cancers and pharmacological inhibition of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL represents a promising strategy for cancer treatment. Using a structure-based design approach, we have designed BM-1197 as a potent and efficacious dual inhibitor of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. BM-1197 binds to Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL proteins with Ki values less than 1 nM and shows >1,000-fold selectivity over Mcl-1. Mechanistic studies performed in the Mcl-1 knockout mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cells revealed that BM-1197 potently disassociates the heterodimeric interactions between anti-apoptotic and pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins, concomitant with conformational changes in Bax protein, loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and subsequent cytochrome c release to the cytosol, leading to activation of the caspase cascade and apoptosis. BM-1197 exerts potent growth-inhibitory activity in 7 of 12 small cell lung cancer cell lines tested and induces mechanism-based apoptotic cell death. When intravenously administered at daily or weekly in H146 and H1963 small-cell lung cancer xenograft models, it achieves complete and long-term tumor regression. Consistent with its targeting of Bcl-xL, BM-1197 causes transit platelet reduction in mice. Collectively, our data indicate that BM-1197 is a promising dual Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitor which warrants further investigation as a new anticancer drug.
PMCID: PMC4047118  PMID: 24901320
2.  A Potent Bivalent Smac Mimetic (SM-1200) Achieving Rapid, Complete and Durable Tumor Regression in Mice 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2013;56(10):3969-3979.
We have designed, synthesized and evaluated a series of new compounds based upon our previously reported bivalent Smac mimetics. This led to the identification of compound 12 (SM-1200), which binds to XIAP, cIAP1 and cIAP2 with Ki values of 0.5 nM, 3.7 nM and 5.4 nM, respectively, inhibits cell growth in the MDA-MB-231 breast cancer and SK-OV-3 ovarian cancer cell lines with IC50 values of 11.0 nM and 28.2 nM, respectively. Compound 12 has a much improved pharmacokinetic profile over our previously reported bivalent Smac mimetics and is highly effective in induction of rapid and durable tumor regression in the MDA-MB-231 xenograft model. These data indicate that compound 12 is a promising Smac mimetic and warrants extensive evaluation as a potential candidate for clinical development.
PMCID: PMC3806058  PMID: 23651223
3.  Diastereomeric Spirooxindoles as Highly Potent and Efficacious MDM2 Inhibitors 
Small-molecule inhibitors that block the MDM2-p53 protein-protein interaction (MDM2 inhibitors) are being intensely pursued as a new therapeutic strategy for cancer treatment. We previously published a series of spirooxindole-containing compounds as a new class of MDM2 small-molecule inhibitors. We report herein a reversible ring opening-cyclization reaction for some of these spirooxindoles, which affords four diastereomers from a single compound. Our biochemical binding data showed that the stereo-chemistry in this class of compounds has a major effect on their binding affinities to MDM2; with >100-fold difference between the most potent and the least potent stereoisomers. Our study has led to the identification of a set of highly potent MDM2 inhibitors with a stereochemistry that is different from that of our previously reported compounds. The most potent compound (MI-888) binds to MDM2 with a Ki value of 0.44 nM and achieves complete and long-lasting tumor regression in an animal model of human cancer.
PMCID: PMC3806051  PMID: 23641733
4.  p53-mediated heterochromatin reorganization regulates its cell fate decisions 
p53 is a major sensor of cellular stresses, and its activation influences cell fate decisions. We identified SUV39H1, a histone code ‘writer’ responsible for the histone H3 Lys9 trimethylation (H3K9me3) mark for ‘closed’ chromatin conformation, as a target of p53 repression. SUV39H1 downregulation was mediated transcriptionally by p21 and post-translationally by MDM2. The H3K9me3 repression mark was found to be associated with promoters of representative p53 target genes and was decreased upon p53 activation. Overexpression of SUV39H1 maintained higher levels of the H3K9me3 mark on these promoters and was associated with decreased p53 promoter occupancy and decreased transcriptional induction in response to p53. Conversely, SUV39H1 pre-silencing decreased H3K9me3 levels on these promoters and enhanced the p53 apoptotic response. These findings uncover a new layer of p53-mediated chromatin regulation through modulation of histone methylation at p53 target promoters.
PMCID: PMC4009975  PMID: 22466965
5.  A Potent and Highly Efficacious Bcl-2/Bcl-xL Inhibitor 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2013;56(7):3048-3067.
Our previously reported Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitor, 4, effectively inhibited tumor growth but failed to achieve complete regression in vivo. We have now performed extensive modifications on its pyrrole core structure, which has culminated in the discovery of 32 (BM-1074). Compound 32 binds to Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL proteins with Ki values of < 1 nM and inhibits cancer cell growth with IC50 values of 1-2 nM in four small-cell lung cancer cell lines sensitive to potent and specific Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitors. Compound 32 is capable of achieving rapid, complete and durable tumor regression in vivo at a well-tolerated dose-schedule. Compound 32 is the most potent and efficacious Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitor reported to date.
PMCID: PMC3806060  PMID: 23448298
6.  RNF111-dependent neddylation activates DNA damage-induced ubiquitination 
Molecular cell  2013;49(5):897-907.
Ubiquitin-like proteins have been shown to be covalently conjugated to targets. However, the functions of these ubiquitin-like proteins are largely unknown. Here, we have screened most known ubiquitin-like proteins after DNA damage and found that NEDD8 is involved in the DNA damage response. Following various DNA damage stimuli, NEDD8 accumulated at DNA damage sites, and this accumulation was dependent on an E2 enzyme UBE2M and an E3 ubiquitin ligase RNF111. We further found that histone H4 was polyneddylated in response to DNA damage, and NEDD8 was conjugated to the N-terminal lysine residues of H4. Interestingly, the DNA damage-induced polyneddylation chain could be recognized by the MIU (Motif Interacting with Ubiquitin) domain of RNF168. Loss of DNA damage-induced neddylation negatively regulated DNA damage-induced foci formation of RNF168 and its downstream functional partners, such as 53BP1 and BRCA1, thus affecting the normal DNA damage repair process.
PMCID: PMC3595365  PMID: 23394999
7.  Endocrine-Therapy-Resistant ESR1 Variants Revealed by Genomic Characterization of Breast-Cancer-Derived Xenografts 
Cell reports  2013;4(6):10.1016/j.celrep.2013.08.022.
To characterize patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) for functional studies, we made whole-genome comparisons with originating breast cancers representative of the major intrinsic subtypes. Structural and copy number aberrations were found to be retained with high fidelity. However, at the single-nucleotide level, variable numbers of PDX-specific somatic events were documented, although they were only rarely functionally significant. Variant allele frequencies were often preserved in the PDXs, demonstrating that clonal representation can be transplantable. Estrogen-receptor-positive PDXs were associated with ESR1 ligand-binding-domain mutations, gene amplification, or an ESR1/YAP1 translocation. These events produced different endocrine-therapy-response phenotypes in human, cell line, and PDX endocrine-response studies. Hence, deeply sequenced PDX models are an important resource for the search for genome-forward treatment options and capture endocrine-drug-resistance etiologies that are not observed in standard cell lines. The originating tumor genome provides a benchmark for assessing genetic drift and clonal representation after transplantation.
PMCID: PMC3881975  PMID: 24055055
8.  Targeting Inhibitors of Apoptosis Proteins (IAPs) For New Breast Cancer Therapeutics 
Apoptosis resistance is a hallmark of human cancer. Research in the last two decades has identified key regulators of apoptosis, including inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs). These critical apoptosis regulators have been targeted for the development of new cancer therapeutics. In this article, we will discuss three members of IAP proteins, namely XIAP, cIAP1 and cIAP2, as cancer therapeutic targets and the progress made in developing new cancer therapeutic agents to target these IAP proteins.
PMCID: PMC3534930  PMID: 23054134
Psychopharmacology  2011;219(1):123-135.
Dopamine D2-like agonists maintain responding when substituted for cocaine in laboratory animals. However, these effects appear to be mediated by an interaction with stimuli that were previously paired with cocaine reinforcement (CS).
To evaluate the extent to which the pramipexole-maintained and -induced responding are influenced by cocaine-paired stimuli.
Rats were trained to nosepoke for cocaine under fixed ratio 1 (FR1) or progressive ratio (PR) schedules of reinforcement. In FR1-trained rats, pramipexole was substituted for cocaine with injections either paired with CSs, or delivered in their absence. The capacity of experimenter-administered pramipexole to induce FR1 and PR responding for CS presentation was evaluated. The effects of altering stimulus conditions, as well as pretreatments with D2- (L-741,626) and D3-preferring (PG01037) antagonists on pramipexole-induced PR responding were also evaluated.
When substituted for cocaine, pramipexole maintained responding at high rates when injections were paired with CSs, but low rates when CSs were omitted. Similarly, experimenter-administered pramipexole induced dose-dependent increases in FR1 or PR responding, with high rates of responding observed when the CS was presented, and low rates of responding when CS presentation was omitted. D2 and D3 antagonists differentially affected pramipexole-induced PR responding, with L-741,626 and PG01037 producing rightward, and downward shifts in the dose-response curve for CS-maintained responding, respectively.
These data indicate that pramipexole is capable of enhancing the reinforcing effectiveness of conditioned stimuli, and raise the possibility that similar mechanisms are responsible for the increased occurrence of impulse control disorders in patients being treated with pramipexole.
PMCID: PMC3800033  PMID: 21701814
10.  TW-37, a Small-Molecule Inhibitor of Bcl-2, Inhibits Cell Growth and Induces Apoptosis in Pancreatic Cancer: Involvement of Notch-1 Signaling Pathway 
Cancer research  2009;69(7):2757-2765.
Overexpression of Bcl-2 family proteins has been found in a variety of aggressive human carcinomas, including pancreatic cancer, suggesting that specific agents targeting Bcl-2 family proteins would be valuable for pancreatic cancer therapy. We have previously reported that TW-37, a small-molecule inhibitor of Bcl-2 family proteins, inhibited cell growth and induced apoptosis in pancreatic cancer. However, the precise role and the molecular mechanism of action of TW-37 have not been fully elucidated. In our current study, we found that TW-37 induces cell growth inhibition and S-phase cell cycle arrest, with regulation of several important cell cycle–related genes like p27, p57, E2F-1, cdc25A, CDK4, cyclin A, cyclin D1, and cyclin E. The cell growth inhibition was accompanied by increased apoptosis with concomitant attenuation of Notch-1, Jagged-1, and its downstream genes such as Hes-1 in vitro and in vivo. We also found that down-regulation of Notch-1 by small interfering RNA or γ-secretase inhibitors before TW-37 treatment resulted in enhanced cell growth inhibition and apoptosis. Our data suggest that the observed antitumor activity of TW-37 is mediated through a novel pathway involving inactivation of Notch-1 and Jagged-1.
PMCID: PMC3798007  PMID: 19318573
11.  Structure-Based Discovery of BM-957 as a Potent Small-Molecule Inhibitor of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL Capable of Achieving Complete Tumor Regression 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2012;55(19):8502-8514.
Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL anti-apoptotic proteins are attractive cancer therapeutic targets. We have previously reported the design of 4,5-diphenyl-1H-pyrrole-3-carboxylic acids as a class of potent Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitors. In the present study, we report our structure-based optimization for this class of compounds based upon the crystal structure of Bcl-xL complexed with a potent lead compound. Our efforts accumulated into the design of compound 30 (BM-957), which binds to Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL with Ki <1 nM and has low nanomolar IC50 values in cell growth inhibition in cancer cell lines. Significantly, compound 30 achieves rapid, complete and durable tumor regression in the H146 small-cell lung cancer xenograft model at a well-tolerated dose-schedule.
PMCID: PMC3495162  PMID: 23030453
12.  A Network of Substrates of the E3 Ubiquitin Ligases MDM2 and HUWE1 Control Apoptosis Independently of p53 
Science signaling  2013;6(274):ra32.
In the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis, cell-damaging signals promote the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria, triggering activation of the Apaf-1 and caspase-9 apoptosome. The ubiquitin E3 ligase MDM2 decreases the stability of the proapoptotic factor p53. We show that it also coordinated apoptotic events in a p53-independent manner by ubiquitylating the apoptosome activator CAS and the ubiquitin E3 ligase HUWE1. HUWE1 ubiquitylates the antiapoptotic factor Mcl-1, and we found that HUWE1 also ubiquitylated PP5 (protein phosphatase 5), which indirectly inhibited apoptosome activation. Breast cancers that are positive for the tyrosine receptor kinase HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) tend to be highly aggressive. In HER2-positive breast cancer cells treated with the HER2 tyrosine kinase inhibitor lapatinib, MDM2 was degraded and HUWE1 was stabilized. In contrast, in breast cancer cells that acquired resistance to lapatinib, the abundance of MDM2 was not decreased and HUWE1 was degraded, which inhibited apoptosis, regardless of p53 status. MDM2 inhibition overcame lapatinib resistance in cells with either wild-type or mutant p53 and in xenograft models. These findings demonstrate broader, p53-independent roles for MDM2 and HUWE1 in apoptosis and specifically suggest the potential for therapy directed against MDM2 to overcome lapatinib resistance.
PMCID: PMC3770270  PMID: 23652204
13.  TW-37, a small-molecule inhibitor of Bcl-2, inhibits cell growth and invasion in pancreatic cancer 
Bcl-2 family of proteins plays critical roles in human cancers, including pancreatic cancer, suggesting that the discovery of specific agents targeting Bcl-2 family proteins would be extremely valuable for pancreatic cancer therapy. We have previously reported the synthesis and characterization of TW-37, which seems to be a negative regulator of Bcl-2. In this investigation, we tested our hypothesis whether TW-37 could be an effective inhibitor of cell growth, invasion and angiogenesis in pancreatic cancer cells. Using multiple cellular and molecular approaches such as MTT assay, apoptosis enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, Western blotting, electrophoretic mobility shift assay for measuring DNA binding activity of NF-κB, migration, invasion and angiogenesis assays, we found that TW-37, in nanomolar concentrations, inhibited cell growth in a dose- and time-dependent manner. This was accompanied by increased apoptosis and concomitant attenuation of NF-κB, and downregulation of NF-κB downstream genes such as MMP-9 and VEGF, resulting in the inhibition of pancreatic cancer cell migration, invasion and angiogenesis in vitro and caused antitumor activity in vivo. From these results, we conclude that TW-37 is a potent inhibitor of progression of pancreatic cancer cells, which could be due to attenuation of Bcl-2 cellular signaling processes. Our findings provide evidence showing that TW-37 could act as a small-molecule Bcl-2 inhibitor on well-characterized pancreatic cancer cells in culture as well as when grown as tumor in a xenograft model. We also suggest that TW-37 could be further developed as a potential therapeutic agent for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
PMCID: PMC3766317  PMID: 18528859
Bcl-2; NF-κB; pancreatic cancer; invasion; angiogenesis
14.  Critical role of prostate apoptosis response-4 in determining the sensitivity of pancreatic cancer cells to small-molecule inhibitor-induced apoptosis 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2008;7(9):2884-2893.
Role of prostate apoptosis response-4 (PAR-4) has been well described in prostate cancer. However, its significance in other cancers has not been fully elucidated. For the current study, we selected four pancreatic cancer cell lines (BxPC-3, Colo-357, L3.6pl, and HPAC) that showed differential endogenous expression of PAR-4. We found that nonpeptidic small-molecule inhibitors (SMI) of Bcl-2 family proteins (apogossypolone and TW-37; 250 nmol/L and 1 μmol/L, respectively) could induce PAR-4-dependent inhibition of cell growth and induction of apoptosis. Sensitivity to apoptosis was directly related to the expression levels of PAR-4 (R = 0.92 and R2 = 0.95). Conversely, small interfering RNA against PAR-4 blocked apoptosis, confirming that PAR-4 is a key player in the apoptotic process. PAR-4 nuclear localization is considered a prerequisite for cells to undergo apoptosis, and we found that the treatment of Colo-357 and L3.6pl cells with 250 nmol/L SMI leads to nuclear localization of PAR-4 as confirmed by 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole staining. In combination studies with gemcitabine, pretreatment with SMI leads to sensitization of Colo-357 cells to the growth-inhibitory and apoptotic action of a therapeutic drug, gemcitabine. In an in vivo setting, the maximum tolerated dose of TW-37 in xenograft of severe combined immuno-deficient mice (40 mg/kg for three i.v. injections) led to significant tumor inhibition. Our results suggest that the observed antitumor activity of SMIs is mediated through a novel pathway involving induction of PAR-4. To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting SMI-mediated apoptosis involving PAR-4 in pancreatic cancer. [Mol Cancer Ther 2008;7(9):2884–93]
PMCID: PMC3766350  PMID: 18790769
15.  High-affinity and selective dopamine D3 receptor full agonists 
We have designed, synthesized and evaluated a series of new compounds with the goal to identify potent and selective D3 ligands. The two most potent and selective new D3 ligands are compounds 38 and 52, which bind to the D3 receptors with a Ki value of <1 nM and display a selectivity of 450–494 times over the D2 receptors and >10,000 times over the D1 receptors. Both 38 and 52 are full agonists with high potency at the D3 receptor in a D3 functional assay.
PMCID: PMC3461280  PMID: 22871578
Dopamine 3 receptor; Full agonists; Structure-activity-relationships
16.  Anti-tumor and anti-angiogenic effects of metronomic dosing of BH3-mimetics 
Cancer research  2011;72(3):716-725.
Recent studies have shown that Bcl-2 functions as a pro-angiogenic signaling molecule in addition to its well-known effect as an inhibitor of apoptosis. The discovery of AT101, a BH3-mimetic drug that is effective and well tolerated when administered orally, suggested the possibility of using a molecularly targeted drug in a metronomic regimen. Here, we generated xenograft squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) with humanized vasculature in immunodeficient mice. Mice received taxotere in combination with either daily 10 mg/kg AT101 (metronomic regimen) or weekly 70 mg/kg AT101 (bolus regimen). The effect of single drug AT101 on angiogenesis, and combination AT101/taxotere on the survival of endothelial cells and SCC cells, were also evaluated in vitro. Metronomic AT101 increased mouse survival (p=0.02), decreased tumor mitotic index (p=0.0009), and decreased tumor microvessel density (p=0.0052), as compared to bolus delivery of AT101. Notably, the substantial potentiation of the anti-tumor effect observed in the metronomic AT101 group was achieved using the same amount of drug and without significant changes in systemic toxicities. In vitro, combination of AT101 and taxotere showed additive toxicity for endothelial cells and synergistic or additive toxicity for tumor cells (SCC). Interestingly, low-dose (sub-apoptotic) concentrations of AT101 potently inhibited the angiogenic potential of endothelial cells. Taken together, these data unveiled the benefit of metronomic delivery of a molecularly targeted drug, and suggested that patients with squamous cell carcinomas might benefit from continuous administration of low dose BH3-mimetic drugs.
PMCID: PMC3748951  PMID: 22158856
Developmental therapeutics; targeted therapy; angiogenesis; Bcl-2; squamous cell carcinoma
17.  Structure-based Design of Potent Bcl-2/Bcl-xL Inhibitors with Strong in vivo Antitumor Activity 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2012;55(13):6149-6161.
Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL are key apoptosis regulators and attractive cancer therapeutic targets. We have designed and optimized a class of small-molecule inhibitors of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL containing a 4,5-diphenyl-1H-pyrrole-3-carboxylic acid core structure. A 1.4 Å resolution crystal structure of a lead compound, 12, complexed with Bcl-xL has provided a basis for our optimization. The most potent compounds, 14 and 15, bind to Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL with subnanomolar Ki values and are potent antagonists of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL in functional assays. Compounds 14 and 15 inhibit cell growth with low nanomolar IC50 values in multiple small-cell lung cancer cell lines and induce robust apoptosis in cancer cells at concentrations as low as 10 nM. Compound 14 also achieves strong antitumor activity in an animal model of human cancer.
PMCID: PMC3417242  PMID: 22747598
18.  AT-406, an orally active antagonist of multiple inhibitor of apoptosis proteins, inhibits progression of human ovarian cancer 
Cancer Biology & Therapy  2012;13(9):804-811.
Ovarian carcinoma is the most deadly gynecological malignancy. Current chemotherapeutic drugs are only transiently effective and patients with advance disease often develop resistance despite significant initial responses. Mounting evidence suggests that anti-apoptotic proteins, including those of the inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP) family, play important roles in the chemoresistance. There has been a recent emergence of compounds that block the IAP functions. Here, we evaluated AT-406, a novel and orally active antagonist of multiple IAP proteins, in ovarian cancer cells as a single agent and in the combination with carboplatin for therapeutic efficacy and mechanism of action. We demonstrate that AT-406 has significant single agent activity in 60% of human ovarian cancer cell lines examined in vitro and inhibits ovarian cancer progression in vivo and that 3 out of 5 carboplatin-resistant cell lines are sensitive to AT-406, highlighting the therapeutic potential of AT-406 for patients with inherent or acquired platinum resistance. Additionally, our in vivo studies show that AT-406 enhances the carboplatin-induced ovarian cancer cell death and increases survival of the experimental mice, suggesting that AT-406 sensitizes the response of these cells to carboplatin. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that AT-406 induced apoptosis is correlated with its ability to down-regulate XIAP whereas AT-406 induces cIAP1 degradation in both AT-406 sensitive and resistance cell lines. Together, these results demonstrate, for the first time, the anti-ovarian cancer efficacy of AT-406 as a single agent and in the combination with carboplatin, suggesting that AT-406 has potential as a novel therapy for ovarian cancer patients, especially for patients exhibiting resistance to the platinum-based therapies.
PMCID: PMC3679100  PMID: 22669575
Smac mimetic; carboplatin; chemosensitization; ovarian cancer; therapeutic agent
19.  Design of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL Inhibitors with Subnanomolar Binding Affinities Based Upon a New Scaffold 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2012;55(10):4664-4682.
Employing a structure-based strategy, we have designed a new class of potent small-molecule inhibitors of the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. An initial lead compound with a new scaffold was designed based upon the crystal structure of Bcl-xL and FDA-approved drugs and was found to have an affinity of 100 μM to both Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. Linking this weak lead to another weak-affinity fragment derived from Abbott's ABT-737 led to an improvement of the binding affinity by a factor of >10,000. Further optimization ultimately yielded compounds with subnanomolar binding affinities to both Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL and potent cellular activity. The best compound (21) binds to Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 with Ki < 1 nM, inhibits cell growth in the H146 and H1417 small-cell lung cancer cell lines with IC50 values of 60–90 nM and induces robust cell death in the H146 cancer cell line at 30–100 nM.
PMCID: PMC3397176  PMID: 22448988
20.  Optimization and validation of mitochondria-based functional assay as a useful tool to identify BH3-like molecules selectively targeting anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins 
BMC Biotechnology  2013;13:45.
Mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP) is a crucial step leading to apoptotic destruction of cancer cells. Bcl-2 family proteins delicately regulate mitochondrial outer membrane integrity through protein-protein interactions, which makes the mitochondrion an ideal cell-free system for screening molecules targeting the Bcl-2 anti-apoptotic proteins. But assay conditions need to be optimized for more reliable results. In this study, we aimed at establishing a reliable functional assay using mitochondria isolated from breast cancer cells to decipher the mode of action of BH3 peptides derived from BH3-only proteins. In this study, high ionic strength buffer was adopted during the initiation of MOMP. Mitochondria isolated from human breast cancer cell lines with distinct expression patterns of Bcl-2 anti-apoptotic proteins were permeabilized by different BH3 peptides alone or in combination, with or without the presence of recombinant anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins. Cytochrome C and Smac/Diablo were tested in both supernatants and mitochondrial pellets by Western blotting.
Sufficient ionic strength was required for optimal release of Cytochrome C. Bad and Noxa BH3 peptides exhibited their bona fide antagonistic effects against Bcl-2/Bcl-xL and Mcl-1 proteins, respectively, whereas Bim BH3 peptide antagonized all three anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 members. Bad and Noxa peptides synergized with each other in the induction of MOMP when mitochondria were dually protected by both Bcl-2/Bcl-xL and Mcl-1.
This method based on MOMP is a useful screening tool for identifying BH3 mimetics with selective toxicity against breast cancer cell mitochondria protected by the three major Bcl-2 anti-apoptotic proteins.
PMCID: PMC3717276  PMID: 23705845
Mitochondrion; B cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2); Bcl-2 homolog domain 3 (BH3); Mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP)
21.  Analysis of Flexibility and Hotspots in Bcl-xL and Mcl-1 Proteins for the Design of Selective Small-Molecule Inhibitors 
ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters  2012;3(4):308-312.
Although Bcl-xL and Mcl-1, two antideath Bcl-2 members, have similar, flexible binding sites, they can achieve high binding selectivity to endogenous binding partners and synthetic small-molecule inhibitors. Here, we employed molecular dynamic (MD) simulations and hotspot analysis to investigate the conformational flexibility of these proteins and their binding hotspots at the binding sites. Backbone flexibility analyses indicate that the highest degree of flexibility in Mcl-1 is the α4 helical segment as opposed to the α3 helix in Bcl-xL among four helical segments in their binding sites. Furthermore, common and unique binding hotspots at both proteins were identified using small-molecule probes. These analyses can aid the design of potent and specific small-molecule inhibitors for these proteins.
PMCID: PMC4025761  PMID: 24900469
Bcl-xL; Mcl-1; backbone flexibility; binding selectivity; cosolvent molecular dynamics simulation
22.  Hepatic TRAF2 Regulates Glucose Metabolism Through Enhancing Glucagon Responses 
Diabetes  2012;61(3):566-573.
Obesity is associated with intrahepatic inflammation that promotes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Tumor necrosis factor receptor–associated factor (TRAF)2 is a key adaptor molecule that is known to mediate proinflammatory cytokine signaling in immune cells; however, its metabolic function remains unclear. We examined the role of hepatic TRAF2 in the regulation of insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. TRAF2 was deleted specifically in hepatocytes using the Cre/loxP system. The mutant mice were fed a high-fat diet (HFD) to induce insulin resistance and hyperglycemia. Hepatic glucose production (HGP) was examined using pyruvate tolerance tests, 2H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and in vitro HGP assays. The expression of gluconeogenic genes was measured by quantitative real-time PCR. Insulin sensitivity was analyzed using insulin tolerance tests and insulin-stimulated phosphorylation of insulin receptors and Akt. Glucagon action was examined using glucagon tolerance tests and glucagon-stimulated HGP, cAMP-responsive element–binding (CREB) phosphorylation, and expression of gluconeogenic genes in the liver and primary hepatocytes. Hepatocyte-specific TRAF2 knockout (HKO) mice exhibited normal body weight, blood glucose levels, and insulin sensitivity. Under HFD conditions, blood glucose levels were significantly lower (by >30%) in HKO than in control mice. Both insulin signaling and the hypoglycemic response to insulin were similar between HKO and control mice. In contrast, glucagon signaling and the hyperglycemic response to glucagon were severely impaired in HKO mice. In addition, TRAF2 overexpression significantly increased the ability of glucagon or a cAMP analog to stimulate CREB phosphorylation, gluconeogenic gene expression, and HGP in primary hepatocytes. These results suggest that the hepatic TRAF2 cell autonomously promotes hepatic gluconeogenesis by enhancing the hyperglycemic response to glucagon and other factors that increase cAMP levels, thus contributing to hyperglycemia in obesity.
PMCID: PMC3282816  PMID: 22315325
23.  LRIG1 modulates cancer cell sensitivity to Smac mimetics by regulating TNFα expression and receptor tyrosine kinase signaling 
Cancer Research  2012;72(5):1229-1238.
Smac mimetics block inhibitor of apoptosis (IAP) proteins to trigger TNFα-dependent apoptosis in cancer cells. However, only a small subset of cancer cells appear to be sensitive to Smac mimetics and even sensitive cells can develop resistance. Herein, we elucidated mechanisms underlying the intrinsic and acquired resistance of cancer cells to Smac mimetics. In vitro and in vivo investigations revealed that the expression of the cell surface protein LRIG1, a negative regulator of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), is downregulated in resistant derivatives of breast cancer cells sensitive to Smac mimetics. RNAi-mediated down-regulation of LRIG1 markedly attenuated the growth inhibitory activity of the Smac mimetic SM-164 in drug-sensitive breast and ovarian cancer cells. Further, LRIG1 downregulation attenuated TNFα gene expression induced by Smac mimetics and increased the activity of multiple RTKs, including c-Met and Ron. The multitargeted tyrosine kinase inhibitors Crizotinib and GSK1363089 greatly enhanced the anticancer activity of SM-164 in all resistant cell derivatives, with the combination of SM-164 and GSK1363089 also completely inhibiting the outgrowth of resistant tumors in vivo. Together, our findings show that both upregulation of RTK signaling and attenuated TNFα expression caused by LRIG1 downregulation confers resistance to Smac mimetics, with implications for a rational combination strategy.
PMCID: PMC3294058  PMID: 22241084
IAPs; small-molecule inhibitors; resistance
24.  Design of Triazole-stapled BCL9 α-Helical Peptides to Target the β-Catenin/B-cell CLL/lymphoma 9 (BCL9) Protein-Protein Interaction 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2012;55(3):1137-1146.
The interaction between β-catenin and B-cell CLL/lymphoma 9 (BCL9), critical for the transcriptional activity of β-catenin, is mediated by a helical segment from BCL9 and a large binding groove in β-catenin. Design of potent, metabolically stable BCL9 peptides represents an attractive approach to inhibit the activity of β-catenin. In this study, we report the use of the Huisgen 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition reaction to generate triazole-stapled BCL9 α-helical peptides. The high efficiency and mild conditions of this “click” reaction combined with the ease of synthesis of the necessary unnatural amino acids allows for facile synthesis of triazole-stapled peptides. We have performed extensive optimization of this approach and identified the optimal combinations of azido and alkynyl linkers necessary for stapling BCL9 helices. The unsymmetrical nature of the triazole staple also allowed the synthesis of double-stapled BCL9 peptides, which show a marked increase in helical character and an improvement in binding affinity and metabolic stability relative to wild-type and linear BCL9 peptides. This study lays the foundation for further optimization of these triazole-stapled BCL9 peptides as potent, metabolically stable and cell-permeable inhibitors to target the β-catenin and BCL9 interaction.
PMCID: PMC3286869  PMID: 22196480
25.  A potent and orally active antagonist of multiple inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs) (SM-406/AT-406) in clinical development for cancer treatment 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2011;54(8):2714-2726.
We report the discovery and characterization of SM-406 (compound 2), a potent and orally bioavailable Smac mimetic and an antagonist of the inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs). This compound binds to XIAP, cIAP1 and cIAP2 proteins with Ki values of 66.4 nM, 1.9 nM and 5.1 nM, respectively. Compound 2 effectively antagonizes XIAP BIR3 protein in a cell-free functional assay, induces rapid degradation of cellular cIAP1 protein and inhibits cancer cell growth in various human cancer cell lines. It has good oral bioavailability in mice, rats, non-human primates and dogs, is highly effective in induction of apoptosis in xenograft tumors and is capable of complete inhibition of tumor growth. Compound 2 is currently in Phase I clinical trials for the treatment of human cancer.
PMCID: PMC3520070  PMID: 21443232

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