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1.  Biochemical and genetic characterization of Trypanosoma cruzi N-myristoyltransferase 
Biochemical Journal  2014;459(Pt 2):323-332.
Co- and post-translational N-myristoylation is known to play a role in the correct subcellular localization of specific proteins in eukaryotes. The enzyme that catalyses this reaction, NMT (N-myristoyltransferase), has been pharmacologically validated as a drug target in the African trypanosome, Trypanosoma brucei. In the present study, we evaluate NMT as a potential drug target in Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas’ disease, using chemical and genetic approaches. Replacement of both allelic copies of TcNMT (T. cruzi NMT) was only possible in the presence of a constitutively expressed ectopic copy of the gene, indicating that this gene is essential for survival of T. cruzi epimastigotes. The pyrazole sulphonamide NMT inhibitor DDD85646 is 13–23-fold less potent against recombinant TcNMT than TbNMT (T. brucei NMT), with Ki values of 12.7 and 22.8 nM respectively, by scintillation proximity or coupled assay methods. DDD85646 also inhibits growth of T. cruzi epimastigotes (EC50=6.9 μM), but is ~1000-fold less potent than that reported for T. brucei. On-target activity is demonstrated by shifts in cell potency in lines that over- and under-express NMT and by inhibition of intracellular N-myristoylation of several proteins in a dose-dependent manner. Collectively, our findings suggest that N-myristoylation is an essential and druggable target in T. cruzi.
The present study shows that N-myristoyltransferase is essential for growth of Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite responsible for Chagas’ disease. The kinetic properties of the enzyme are described along with evidence that growth is specifically inhibited by blocking N-myristoylation in the parasite.
PMCID: PMC3969225  PMID: 24444291
Chagas’ disease; click chemistry; drug target; N-myristoylation; Trypanosoma cruzi; validation; CAP5.5, cytoskeleton-associated protein 5.5; DIG, digoxigenin; DKO, double knockout; DMEM, Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium; HYG, hygromycin phosphotransferase; NMT, N-myristoyltransferase; NMTOE, NMT overexpressor; PAC, puromycin N-acetyltransferase; RTH/FBS, RPMI 1640 medium supplemented with trypticase, haemin, Hepes and 10% heat-inactivated FBS; SKO, single knockout; TbNMT, Trypanosoma brucei NMT; TCEP, tris-(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine; TcNMT, Trypanosoma cruzi NMT; TcTryR, Trypanosoma cruzi trypanothione reductase; WT, wild-type
2.  A Lack of Premature Termination Codon Read-Through Efficacy of PTC124 (Ataluren) in a Diverse Array of Reporter Assays 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(6):e1001593.
Numerous nonsense mutation reporter assays fail to reveal read-through activity for the drug PTC124.
The drug molecule PTC124 (Ataluren) has been described as a read-through agent, capable of suppressing premature termination codons (PTCs) and restoring functional protein production from genes disrupted by nonsense mutations. Following the discovery of PTC124 there was some controversy regarding its mechanism of action with two reports attributing its activity to an off-target effect on the Firefly luciferase (FLuc) reporter used in the development of the molecule. Despite questions remaining as to its mechanism of action, development of PTC124 continued into the clinic and it is being actively pursued as a potential nonsense mutation therapy. To thoroughly test the ability of PTC124 to read through nonsense mutations, we conducted a detailed assessment comparing the efficacy of PTC124 with the classical aminoglycoside antibiotic read-through agent geneticin (G418) across a diverse range of in vitro reporter assays. We can confirm the off-target FLuc activity of PTC124 but found that, while G418 exhibits varying activity in every read-through assay, there is no evidence of activity for PTC124.
Author Summary
Ten percent of all single-gene hereditary diseases are caused by nonsense mutations. These are alterations in the DNA sequence of a protein-coding gene that cause the ribosome to prematurely finish translating the gene transcript before a full-length, active protein can be produced. In 2007 a drug was developed called PTC124 (latterly known as Ataluren), which was reported to help the ribosome skip over the premature stop, restore production of functional protein, and thereby potentially treat these genetic diseases. In 2009, however, questions were raised about the initial discovery of this drug; PTC124 was shown to interfere with the assay used in its discovery in a way that might be mistaken for genuine activity. As doubts regarding PTC124's efficacy remain unresolved, here we conducted a thorough and systematic investigation of the proposed mechanism of action of PTC124 in a wide array of cell-based assays. We found no evidence of such translational read-through activity for PTC124, suggesting that its development may indeed have been a consequence of the choice of assay used in the drug discovery process.
PMCID: PMC3692445  PMID: 23824517
3.  IspE Inhibitors Identified by a Combination of In Silico and In Vitro High-Throughput Screening 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35792.
CDP-ME kinase (IspE) contributes to the non-mevalonate or deoxy-xylulose phosphate (DOXP) pathway for isoprenoid precursor biosynthesis found in many species of bacteria and apicomplexan parasites. IspE has been shown to be essential by genetic methods and since it is absent from humans it constitutes a promising target for antimicrobial drug development. Using in silico screening directed against the substrate binding site and in vitro high-throughput screening directed against both, the substrate and co-factor binding sites, non-substrate-like IspE inhibitors have been discovered and structure-activity relationships were derived. The best inhibitors in each series have high ligand efficiencies and favourable physico-chemical properties rendering them promising starting points for drug discovery. Putative binding modes of the ligands were suggested which are consistent with established structure-activity relationships. The applied screening methods were complementary in discovering hit compounds, and a comparison of both approaches highlights their strengths and weaknesses. It is noteworthy that compounds identified by virtual screening methods provided the controls for the biochemical screens.
PMCID: PMC3340893  PMID: 22563402
4.  Discovery of a Novel Class of Orally Active Trypanocidal N-Myristoyltransferase Inhibitors 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2011;55(1):140-152.
N-Myristoyltransferase (NMT) represents a promising drug target for human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), which is caused by the parasitic protozoa Trypanosoma brucei. We report the optimization of a high throughput screening hit (1) to give a lead molecule DDD85646 (63), which has potent activity against the enzyme (IC50 = 2 nM) and T. brucei (EC50 = 2 nM) in culture. The compound has good oral pharmacokinetics and cures rodent models of peripheral HAT infection. This compound provides an excellent tool for validation of T. brucei NMT as a drug target for HAT as well as a valuable lead for further optimization.
PMCID: PMC3256935  PMID: 22148754
5.  N-Myristoyltransferase inhibitors as new leads to treat sleeping sickness 
Nature  2010;464(7289):728-732.
African sleeping sickness or human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), caused by Trypanosoma brucei spp., is responsible for ~30,000 deaths each year. Available treatments for this neglected disease are poor, with unacceptable efficacy and safety profiles, particularly in the late stage of the disease, when the parasite has infected the central nervous system. Here, we report the validation of a molecular target and discovery of associated lead compounds with potential to address this unmet need. Inhibition of this target, T. brucei N-myristoyltransferase (TbNMT), leads to rapid killing of trypanosomes both in vitro and in vivo and cures trypanosomiasis in mice. These high affinity inhibitors bind into the peptide substrate pocket of the enzyme and inhibit protein N-myristoylation in trypanosomes. The compounds identified have very promising pharmaceutical properties and represent an exciting opportunity to develop oral drugs to treat this devastating disease. Our studies validate TbNMT as a promising therapeutic target for HAT.
PMCID: PMC2917743  PMID: 20360736
6.  Chemical Validation of Trypanothione Synthetase 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2009;284(52):36137-36145.
In the search for new therapeutics for the treatment of human African trypanosomiasis, many potential drug targets in Trypanosoma brucei have been validated by genetic means, but very few have been chemically validated. Trypanothione synthetase (TryS; EC; spermidine/glutathionylspermidine:glutathione ligase (ADP-forming)) is one such target. To identify novel inhibitors of T. brucei TryS, we developed an in vitro enzyme assay, which was amenable to high throughput screening. The subsequent screen of a diverse compound library resulted in the identification of three novel series of TryS inhibitors. Further chemical exploration resulted in leads with nanomolar potency, which displayed mixed, uncompetitive, and allosteric-type inhibition with respect to spermidine, ATP, and glutathione, respectively. Representatives of all three series inhibited growth of bloodstream T. brucei in vitro. Exposure to one of our lead compounds (DDD86243; 2 × EC50 for 72 h) decreased intracellular trypanothione levels to <10% of wild type. In addition, there was a corresponding 5-fold increase in the precursor metabolite, glutathione, providing strong evidence that DDD86243 was acting on target to inhibit TryS. This was confirmed with wild-type, TryS single knock-out, and TryS-overexpressing cell lines showing expected changes in potency to DDD86243. Taken together, these data provide initial chemical validation of TryS as a drug target in T. brucei.
PMCID: PMC2794729  PMID: 19828449
7.  Identification of Inhibitors of the Leishmania cdc2-Related Protein Kinase CRK3 
Chemmedchem  2011;6(12):2214-2224.
New drugs are urgently needed for the treatment of tropical parasitic diseases such as leishmaniasis and human African trypanosomiasis (HAT). This work involved a high-throughput screen of a focussed kinase set of ∼3400 compounds to identify potent and parasite-selective inhibitors of an enzymatic Leishmania CRK3–cyclin 6 complex. The aim of this study is to provide chemical validation that Leishmania CRK3–CYC6 is a drug target. Eight hit series were identified, of which four were followed up. The optimisation of these series using classical SAR studies afforded low-nanomolar CRK3 inhibitors with significant selectivity over the closely related human cyclin dependent kinase CDK2.
PMCID: PMC3272345  PMID: 21913331
CRK3; cyclin-dependent cdc2-related kinases; leishmaniasis; triazolopyridines; ureas
8.  Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Trypanosoma brucei Trypanothione Synthetase Inhibitors 
Chemmedchem  2011;7(1):95-106.
Trypanothione synthetase (TryS) is essential for the survival of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei, which causes human African trypanosomiasis. It is one of only a handful of chemically validated targets for T. brucei in vivo. To identify novel inhibitors of TbTryS we screened our in-house diverse compound library that contains 62 000 compounds. This resulted in the identification of six novel hit series of TbTryS inhibitors. Herein we describe the SAR exploration of these hit series, which gave rise to one common series with potency against the enzyme target. Cellular studies on these inhibitors confirmed on-target activity, and the compounds have proven to be very useful tools for further study of the trypanothione pathway in kinetoplastids.
PMCID: PMC3320663  PMID: 22162199
antiprotozoal agents; drug design; Trypanosoma brucei; trypanothione synthetase
9.  Lead Optimization of a Pyrazole Sulfonamide Series of Trypanosoma bruceiN-Myristoyltransferase Inhibitors: Identification and Evaluation of CNS Penetrant Compounds as Potential Treatments for Stage 2 Human African Trypanosomiasis 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(23):9855-9869.
Trypanosoma bruceiN-myristoyltransferase (TbNMT) is an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT). From previous studies, we identified pyrazole sulfonamide, DDD85646 (1), a potent inhibitor of TbNMT. Although this compound represents an excellent lead, poor central nervous system (CNS) exposure restricts its use to the hemolymphatic form (stage 1) of the disease. With a clear clinical need for new drug treatments for HAT that address both the hemolymphatic and CNS stages of the disease, a chemistry campaign was initiated to address the shortfalls of this series. This paper describes modifications to the pyrazole sulfonamides which markedly improved blood–brain barrier permeability, achieved by reducing polar surface area and capping the sulfonamide. Moreover, replacing the core aromatic with a flexible linker significantly improved selectivity. This led to the discovery of DDD100097 (40) which demonstrated partial efficacy in a stage 2 (CNS) mouse model of HAT.
PMCID: PMC4269550  PMID: 25412409

Results 1-9 (9)