Z. are inventors of two pending patent applications for use of BCL-X L PROTACs as senolytic and antitumor agents. R.H., G.Z., and D.Z. are co-founders of and have equity in Dialectic Therapeutics, which develops BCL-X L PROTACs to treat cancer.
Accumulating evidence indicates that senescent cells play an important role in many age-associated diseases. The pharmacological depletion of senescent cells (SCs) with a “senolytic agent”, a small molecule that selectively kills SCs, is a potential novel therapeutic approach for these diseases. Recently, we discovered ABT-263, a potent and highly selective senolytic agent, by screening a library of rationally-selected compounds. With this screening approach, we also identified a second senolytic agent called piperlongumine (PL). PL is a natural product that is reported to have many pharmacological effects, including anti-tumor activity. We show here that PL preferentially killed senescent human WI-38 fibroblasts when senescence was induced by ionizing radiation, replicative exhaustion, or ectopic expression of the oncogene Ras. PL killed SCs by inducing apoptosis, and this process did not require the induction of reactive oxygen species. In addition, we found that PL synergistically killed SCs in combination with ABT-263, and initial structural modifications to PL identified analogs with improved potency and/or selectivity in inducing SC death. Overall, our studies demonstrate that PL is a novel lead for developing senolytic agents.
Small molecules that selectively kill senescent cells (SCs), termed senolytics, have the potential to prevent and treat various age-related diseases and extend healthspan. The use of Bcl-xl inhibitors as senolytics is largely limited by their on-target and dose-limiting platelet toxicity. Here, we report the use of proteolysis-targeting chimera (PROTAC) technology to reduce the platelet toxicity of navitoclax (also known as ABT263), a Bcl-2 and Bcl-xl dual inhibitor, by converting it into PZ15227 (PZ), a Bcl-xl PROTAC, which targets Bcl-xl to the cereblon (CRBN) E3 ligase for degradation. Compared to ABT263, PZ is less toxic to platelets, but equally or slightly more potent against SCs because CRBN is poorly expressed in platelets. PZ effectively clears SCs and rejuvenates tissue stem and progenitor cells in naturally aged mice without causing severe thrombocytopenia. With further improvement, Bcl-xl PROTACs have the potential to become safer and more potent senolytic agents than Bcl-xl inhibitors.
SummaryThe selective depletion of senescent cells (SCs) by small molecules, termed senolytic agents, is a promising therapeutic approach for treating age‐related diseases and chemotherapy‐ and radiotherapy‐induced side effects. Piperlongumine (PL) was recently identified as a novel senolytic agent. However, its mechanism of action and molecular targets in SCs was unknown and thus was investigated. Specifically, we used a PL‐based chemical probe to pull‐down PL‐binding proteins from live cells and then mass spectrometry‐based proteomic analysis to identify potential molecular targets of PL in SCs. One prominent target was oxidation resistance 1 (OXR1), an important antioxidant protein that regulates the expression of a variety of antioxidant enzymes. We found that OXR1 was upregulated in senescent human WI38 fibroblasts. PL bound to OXR1 directly and induced its degradation through the ubiquitin‐proteasome system in an SC‐specific manner. The knockdown of OXR1 expression by RNA interference significantly increased the production of reactive oxygen species in SCs in conjunction with the downregulation of antioxidant enzymes such as heme oxygenase 1, glutathione peroxidase 2, and catalase, but these effects were much less significant when OXR1 was knocked down in non‐SCs. More importantly, knocking down OXR1 selectively induced apoptosis in SCs and sensitized the cells to oxidative stress caused by hydrogen peroxide. These findings provide new insights into the mechanism by which SCs are highly resistant to oxidative stress and suggest that OXR1 is a novel senolytic target that can be further exploited for the development of new senolytic agents.
Proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs) are heterobifunctional small molecules that utilize the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) to degrade proteins of interest (POI). PROTACs are potentially superior to conventional small molecule inhibitors (SMIs) because of their unique mechanism of action (MOA, i.e., degrading POI in a substoichiometric manner), ability to target "undruggable" and mutant proteins, and improved target selectivity. Therefore, PROTACs have become an emerging technology for the development of novel targeted anticancer therapeutics. In fact, some of these reported PROTACs exhibit unprecedented efficacy and specificity in degrading various oncogenic proteins and have advanced to various stages of preclinical and clinical development for the treatment of cancer and hematologic malignancy. In this review, we systematically summarize the known PROTACs that have the potential to be used to treat various hematologic malignancies and discuss strategies to improve the safety of PROTACs for clinical application. Particularly, we propose to use the latest human pan-tissue single-cell RNA sequencing data to identify hematopoietic cell type-specific/selective E3 ligases to generate tumor-specific/ selective PROTACs. These PROTACs have the potential to become safer therapeutics for hematologic malignancies because they can overcome some of the on-target toxicities of SMIs and PROTACs.
Targeted protein degradation by small-molecule degraders represents an emerging mode of action in drug discovery. Proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs) are small molecules that can recruit an E3 ligase and a protein of interest (POI) into proximity, leading to induced ubiquitination and degradation of the POI by the proteasome system. To date, the design and optimization of PROTACs remain empirical due to the complicated mechanism of induced protein degradation. Nevertheless, it is increasingly appreciated that profiling step-by-step along the ubiquitin-proteasome degradation pathway using biochemical and biophysical assays are essential in understanding the structure–activity relationship and facilitating the rational design of PROTACs. This review aims to summarize these assays and to discuss the potential of expanding the toolbox with other new techniques.
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