Practical Fragments has covered bromodomains extensively, most recently just a couple months ago. But these epigenetic readers are not the only proteins that recognize acetylated lysine residues. Two years ago we highlighted fragment hits against one of the four YEATS domain proteins. A paper recently published in Cell Chem. Biol. by Jolanta Grembecka, Tomasz Cierpicki, and colleagues at University of Michigan tackles another member of the family.
The researchers were interested in the protein GAS41, which is amplified in multiple forms of cancer. The YEATS domain within this protein binds to acylated lysine residues in histone H3 proteins. However, unlike the deep pockets found in bromodomains, the acyl-lysine binding site in the YEATS domain consists of a partially solvent-exposed channel, making it a more challenging site to drug.
Nonetheless, an NMR-based screen of fragments (in pools of 10, each at 500 µM) led to compound 1, which produced multiple chemical shifts in a 1H-15N HSQC experiment. Two different competition assays, fluorescence polarization (FP) and AlphaScreen formats, confirmed that compound 1 could compete with H3-derived peptides. Fragment growing led to compounds 7 and 11. (All IC50 values below are from the FP assay; these are somewhat weaker than those from the AlphaScreen, but they more closely track binding affinities determined by isothermal titration calorimetry.)
A crystal structure of a compound closely related to compound 11 revealed that the molecule nearly fills the small binding channel, suggesting that further gains in affinity would be difficult. Indeed, no GAS41 inhibitors have been previously reported. However, the protein is dimeric, so the researchers decided to dimerize their molecule to bind to two YEATS domains simultaneously. This led to nanomolar molecules such as compound 19.
Not only was compound 19 potent in biochemical assays, it also disrupted binding of GAS41 to acetylated histone proteins in cells. Moreover, the compound inhibited growth of cancer cell lines with amplified GAS41.
This is a nice case study in fragment dimerization, an uncommon but interesting approach. The linking in this case led to a 44-fold improvement in affinity, which though impressive is far from synergistic, and is associated with a considerable loss in ligand efficiency. And although the micromolar potency of compound 19 in cells needs to be improved to generate a chemical probe, let alone a drug lead, these results nonetheless support the notion that targeting GAS41 could be a useful strategy for certain cancers.