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See detailA Pharmacophore Model for SARS-CoV-2 3CLpro Small Molecule Inhibitors and in Vitro Experimental Validation of Computationally Screened Inhibitors
Glaab, Enrico UL; Manoharan, Ganesh Babu UL; Abankwa, Daniel UL

in Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling (in press)

Among the biomedical efforts in response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, pharmacological strategies to reduce viral load in patients with severe forms of the disease are being studied ... [more ▼]

Among the biomedical efforts in response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, pharmacological strategies to reduce viral load in patients with severe forms of the disease are being studied intensively. One of the main drug target proteins proposed so far is the SARS-CoV-2 viral protease 3CLpro (also called Mpro), an essential component for viral replication. Ongoing ligand- and receptor-based computational screening efforts would be facilitated by an improved understanding of the electrostatic, hydrophobic and steric features that characterize small molecule inhibitors binding stably to 3CLpro, as well as by an extended collection of known binders. Here, we present combined virtual screening, molecular dynamics simulation, machine learning and in vitro experimental validation analyses which have led to the identification of small molecule inhibitors of 3CLpro with micromolar activity, and to a pharmacophore model that describes functional chemical groups associated with the molecular recognition of ligands by the 3CLpro binding pocket. Experimentally validated inhibitors using a ligand activity assay include natural compounds with available prior knowledge on safety and bioavailability properties, such as the natural compound rottlerin (IC50 = 37 µM), and synthetic compounds previously not characterized (e.g. compound CID 46897844, IC50 = 31 µM). In combination with the developed pharmacophore model, these and other confirmed 3CLpro inhibitors may provide a basis for further similarity-based screening in independent compound databases and structural design optimization efforts, to identify 3CLpro ligands with improved potency and selectivity. Overall, this study suggests that the integration of virtual screening, molecular dynamics simulations and machine learning can facilitate 3CLpro-targeted small molecule screening investigations. Different receptor-, ligand- and machine learning-based screening strategies provided complementary information, helping to increase the number and diversity of identified active compounds. Finally, the resulting pharmacophore model and experimentally validated small molecule inhibitors for 3CLpro provide resources to support follow-up computational screening efforts for this drug target. [less ▲]

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See detailNRAS is unique among RAS proteins in requiring ICMT for trafficking to the plasma membrane
Ahearn, Ian M.; Court, Helen R.; Siddiqui, Farid et al

in Life Science Alliance (2021)

Isoprenylcysteine carboxyl methyltransferase (ICMT) is the third of three enzymes that sequentially modify the C-terminus of CaaX proteins, including RAS. Although all four RAS proteins are substrates for ... [more ▼]

Isoprenylcysteine carboxyl methyltransferase (ICMT) is the third of three enzymes that sequentially modify the C-terminus of CaaX proteins, including RAS. Although all four RAS proteins are substrates for ICMT, each traffics to membranes differently by virtue of their hypervariable regions that are differentially palmitoylated. We found that among RAS proteins, NRAS was unique in requiring ICMT for delivery to the PM, a consequence of having only a single palmitoylation site as its secondary affinity module. Although not absolutely required for palmitoylation, acylation was diminished in the absence of ICMT. Photoactivation and FRAP of GFP-NRAS revealed increase flux at the Golgi, independent of palmitoylation, in the absence of ICMT. Association of NRAS with the prenyl-protein chaperone PDE6δ also required ICMT and promoted anterograde trafficking from the Golgi. We conclude that carboxyl methylation of NRAS is required for efficient palmitoylation, PDE6δ binding, and homeostatic flux through the Golgi, processes that direct delivery to the plasma membrane. [less ▲]

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See detailPromotion of cancer cell stemness by Ras
Chippalkatti, Rohan UL; Abankwa, Daniel UL

in Biochemical Society Transactions (2021)

Cancer stem cells (CSC) may be the most relevant and elusive cancer cell population, as they have the exquisite ability to seed new tumors. It is plausible, that highly mutated cancer genes, such as KRAS ... [more ▼]

Cancer stem cells (CSC) may be the most relevant and elusive cancer cell population, as they have the exquisite ability to seed new tumors. It is plausible, that highly mutated cancer genes, such as KRAS, are functionally associated with processes contributing to the emergence of stemness traits. In this review, we will summarize the evidence for a stemness driving activity of oncogenic Ras. This activity appears to differ by Ras isoform, with the highly mutated KRAS having a particularly profound impact. Next to established stemness pathways such as Wnt and Hedgehog (Hh), the precise, cell cycle dependent orchestration of the MAPK-pathway appears to relay Ras activation in this context. We will examine how non-canonical activities of K-Ras4B (hereafter K-Ras) could be enabled by its trafficking chaperones calmodulin and PDE6D/PDEδ. Both dynamically localize to the cellular machinery that is intimately linked to cell fate decisions, such as the primary cilium and the centrosome. Thus, it can be speculated that oncogenic K-Ras disrupts fundamental polarized signaling and asymmetric apportioning processes that are necessary during cell differentiation. [less ▲]

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See detailMechanisms of Ras Membrane Organization and Signaling: Ras Rocks Again.
Abankwa, Daniel UL; Gorfe, Alemayehu A.

in Biomolecules (2020), 10(11),

Ras is the most frequently mutated oncogene and recent drug development efforts have spurred significant new research interest. Here we review progress toward understanding how Ras functions in nanoscale ... [more ▼]

Ras is the most frequently mutated oncogene and recent drug development efforts have spurred significant new research interest. Here we review progress toward understanding how Ras functions in nanoscale, proteo-lipid signaling complexes on the plasma membrane, called nanoclusters. We discuss how G-domain reorientation is plausibly linked to Ras-nanoclustering and -dimerization. We then look at how these mechanistic features could cooperate in the engagement and activation of RAF by Ras. Moreover, we show how this structural information can be integrated with microscopy data that provide nanoscale resolution in cell biological experiments. Synthesizing the available data, we propose to distinguish between two types of Ras nanoclusters, an active, immobile RAF-dependent type and an inactive/neutral membrane anchor-dependent. We conclude that it is possible that Ras reorientation enables dynamic Ras dimerization while the whole Ras/RAF complex transits into an active state. These transient di/oligomer interfaces of Ras may be amenable to pharmacological intervention. We close by highlighting a number of open questions including whether all effectors form active nanoclusters and whether there is an isoform specific composition of Ras nanocluster. [less ▲]

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See detailPDE6D Inhibitors with a New Design Principle Selectively Block K‑Ras Activity
Siddiqui, Farid A.; Alam, Catharina; Rosenqvist, Petja et al

in ACS Omega (2020), 5(1), 832-842

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See detailA subset of flavaglines inhibits KRAS nanoclustering and activation.
Yurugi, Hajime; Zhuang, Yinyin; Siddiqui, Farid A. et al

in Journal of cell science (2020), 133(12),

The RAS oncogenes are frequently mutated in human cancers and among the three isoforms (KRAS, HRAS and NRAS), KRAS is the most frequently mutated oncogene. Here, we demonstrate that a subset of ... [more ▼]

The RAS oncogenes are frequently mutated in human cancers and among the three isoforms (KRAS, HRAS and NRAS), KRAS is the most frequently mutated oncogene. Here, we demonstrate that a subset of flavaglines, a class of natural anti-tumour drugs and chemical ligands of prohibitins, inhibit RAS GTP loading and oncogene activation in cells at nanomolar concentrations. Treatment with rocaglamide, the first discovered flavagline, inhibited the nanoclustering of KRAS, but not HRAS and NRAS, at specific phospholipid-enriched plasma membrane domains. We further demonstrate that plasma membrane-associated prohibitins directly interact with KRAS, phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid, and these interactions are disrupted by rocaglamide but not by the structurally related flavagline FL1. Depletion of prohibitin-1 phenocopied the rocaglamide-mediated effects on KRAS activation and stability. We also demonstrate that flavaglines inhibit the oncogenic growth of KRAS-mutated cells and that treatment with rocaglamide reduces non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) tumour nodules in autochthonous KRAS-driven mouse models without severe side effects. Our data suggest that it will be promising to further develop flavagline derivatives as specific KRAS inhibitors for clinical applications. [less ▲]

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See detailMedium-Throughput Detection of Hsp90/Cdc37 Protein–Protein Interaction Inhibitors Using a Split Renilla Luciferase-Based Assay
Siddiqui, Farid A.; Parkkola, Hanna; Manoharan, Ganesh Babu UL et al

in SLAS Discovery (2019)

The protein-folding chaperone Hsp90 enables the maturation and stability of various oncogenic signaling proteins and is thus pursued as a cancer drug target. Folding in particular of protein kinases is ... [more ▼]

The protein-folding chaperone Hsp90 enables the maturation and stability of various oncogenic signaling proteins and is thus pursued as a cancer drug target. Folding in particular of protein kinases is assisted by the co-chaperone Cdc37. Several inhibitors against the Hsp90 ATP-binding site have been developed. However, they displayed significant toxicity in clinical trials. By contrast, the natural product conglobatin A has an exceptionally low toxicity in mice. It targets the protein–protein interface (PPI) of Hsp90 and Cdc37, suggesting that interface inhibitors have an interesting drug development potential. In order to identify inhibitors of the Hsp90/Cdc37 PPI, we have established a mammalian cell lysate-based, medium-throughput amenable split Renilla luciferase assay. This assay employs N-terminal and C-terminal fragments of Renilla luciferase fused to full-length human Hsp90 and Cdc37, respectively. We expect that our assay will allow for the identification of novel Hsp90/Cdc37 interaction inhibitors. Such tool compounds will help to evaluate whether the toxicity profile of Hsp90/Cdc37 PPI inhibitors is in general more favorable than that of ATP-competitive Hsp90 inhibitors. Further development of such tool compounds may lead to new classes of Hsp90 inhibitors with applications in cancer and other diseases. [less ▲]

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See detailHigh-throughput amenable fluorescence-assays to screen for calmodulin-inhibitors
Manoharan, Ganesh Babu UL; Kopra, Kari; Eskonen, Ville et al

in Analytical Biochemistry (2019), 572

The KRAS gene is highly mutated in human cancers and the focus of current Ras drug development efforts. Recently the interface between the C-terminus of K-Ras and calmodulin (CaM) was proposed as a target ... [more ▼]

The KRAS gene is highly mutated in human cancers and the focus of current Ras drug development efforts. Recently the interface between the C-terminus of K-Ras and calmodulin (CaM) was proposed as a target site to block K-Ras driven cancer cell stemness. We therefore aimed at developing a high-throughput amenable screening assay to identify novel CaM-inhibitors as potential K-Ras stemness-signaling disruptors. A modulated time-resolved Förster resonance energy transfer (mTR-FRET)-assay was developed and benchmarked against an identically designed fluorescence anisotropy (FA)-assay. In both assays, two CaM-binding peptides were labeled with Eu(III)-chelate or fluorescein and used as single-label reporter probes that were displaced from CaM upon competitor binding. Thus, peptidic and small molecule competitors with nanomolar to micromolar affinities to CaM could be detected, including a peptide that was derived from the C-terminus of K-Ras. In order to detect CaM-residue specific covalent inhibitors, a cell lysate-based Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-assay was furthermore established. This assay enabled us to measure the slow, residue-specific, covalent inhibition by ophiobolin A in the presence of other endogenous proteins. In conclusion, we have developed a panel of fluorescence-assays that allows identification of conventional and covalent CaM-inhibitors as potential disruptors of K-Ras driven cancer cell stemness. [less ▲]

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See detailTargeting prohibitins at the cell surface prevents Th17-mediated autoimmunity.
Buehler, Ulrike; Schulenburg, Katharina; Yurugi, Hajime et al

in The EMBO journal (2018), 37(16),

T helper (Th)17 cells represent a unique subset of CD4(+) T cells and are vital for clearance of extracellular pathogens including bacteria and fungi. However, Th17 cells are also involved in ... [more ▼]

T helper (Th)17 cells represent a unique subset of CD4(+) T cells and are vital for clearance of extracellular pathogens including bacteria and fungi. However, Th17 cells are also involved in orchestrating autoimmunity. By employing quantitative surface proteomics, we found that the evolutionarily conserved prohibitins (PHB1/2) are highly expressed on the surface of both murine and human Th17 cells. Increased expression of PHBs at the cell surface contributed to enhanced CRAF/MAPK activation in Th17 cells. Targeting surface-expressed PHBs on Th17 cells with ligands such as Vi polysaccharide (Typhim vaccine) inhibited CRAF-MAPK pathway, reduced interleukin (IL)-17 expression and ameliorated disease pathology with an increase in FOXP3(+)-expressing Tregs in an animal model for multiple sclerosis (MS). Interestingly, we detected a CD4(+) T cell population with high PHB1 surface expression in blood samples from MS patients in comparison with age- and sex-matched healthy subjects. Our observations suggest a pivotal role for the PHB-CRAF-MAPK signalling axis in regulating the polarization and pathogenicity of Th17 cells and unveil druggable targets in autoimmune disorders such as MS. [less ▲]

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See detailTailored Approaches in Drug Development and Diagnostics: From Molecular Design to Biological Model Systems
Sahlgren, C; Meinander, A; Zhang, H et al

in Advanced Healthcare Materials (2017)

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See detailOpposite feedback from mTORC1 to H-ras and K-ras4B downstream of SREBP1
Posada, IMD; Lectez, B; Siddiqui, FA et al

in Scientific Reports (2017)

As a major growth factor transducer, Ras is an upstream activator of mTORC1, which further integrates nutrient and energy inputs. To ensure a contextual coupling of cell division via Ras/MAPK-signalling ... [more ▼]

As a major growth factor transducer, Ras is an upstream activator of mTORC1, which further integrates nutrient and energy inputs. To ensure a contextual coupling of cell division via Ras/MAPK-signalling and growth via mTORC1-signalling, feedback loops from one pathway back to the other are required. Here we describe a novel feedback from mTORC1, which oppositely affects oncogenic H-ras- and K-ras-signalling output, and as a consequence stemness properties of tumourigenic cells. Amino acid stimulation of mTORC1 increases the processed form of SREBP1, a major lipidome regulator. We show that modulation of the SREBP1 levels downstream of S6K1 has opposite effects on oncogenic H-ras and K-ras nanoscale membrane organisation, ensuing signalling output and promotion of mammospheres expressing these oncogenes. Our data suggest that modulation of phosphatidic acid, a major target of SREBP1 controlled lipid metabolism, is sufficient to affect H-ras and K-ras oppositely in the membrane. Thus mTORC1 activation increases H-ras-, but decreases K-ras-signalling output in cells transformed with the respective oncogene. Given the different impact of these two Ras isoforms on stemness, our results could have implications for stem cell biology and inhibition of cancer stem cells. [less ▲]

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See detailrapalogs can promote cancer cell stemness in vitro in a Galectin-1 and H-ras-dependent manner
Posada, IMD; Lectez, B; Sharma, M et al

in Oncotarget (2017), Vol. 8((No. 27)), 44550-44566

Currently several combination treatments of mTor- and Ras-pathway inhibitors are being tested in cancer therapy. While multiple feedback loops render these central signaling pathways robust, they ... [more ▼]

Currently several combination treatments of mTor- and Ras-pathway inhibitors are being tested in cancer therapy. While multiple feedback loops render these central signaling pathways robust, they complicate drug targeting. Here, we describe a novel H-ras specific feedback, which leads to an inadvertent rapalog induced activation of tumorigenicity in Ras transformed cells. We find that rapalogs specifically increase nanoscale clustering (nanoclustering) of oncogenic H-ras but not K-ras on the plasma membrane. This increases H-ras signaling output, promotes mammosphere numbers in a H-ras-dependent manner and tumor growth in ovo. Surprisingly, also other FKBP12 binders, but not mTor-inhibitors, robustly decrease FKBP12 levels after prolonged (>2 days) exposure. This leads to an upregulation of the nanocluster scaffold galectin-1 (Gal-1), which is responsible for the rapamycin-induced increase in H-ras nanoclustering and signaling output. We provide evidence that Gal-1 promotes stemness features in tumorigenic cells. Therefore, it may be necessary to block inadvertent induction of stemness traits in H-ras transformed cells by specific Gal-1 inhibitors that abrogate its effect on H-ras nanocluster. On a more general level, our findings may add an important mechanistic explanation to the pleiotropic physiological effects that are observed with rapalogs. [less ▲]

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