Practical Fragments has written previously about PhotoAffinity Bits, or PhABits, which are fragments designed to reveal binding (as opposed to inhibition). These fragments contain a photoreactive moiety such as a diazirine. When incubated with a protein target and irradiated by ultraviolet light, the diazirine transforms into reactive species that can react irreversibly with anything nearby. Intact protein mass spectrometry can identify whether a reaction has occurred, and further proteomics experiments can identify more precisely where the PhABits reacted.
One challenge with this approach is obtaining a library of PhABits; few are commercially available (though AstraZeneca is sharing a set). In a recent open-access Chem. Sci. paper, Jacob Bush and collaborators at GlaxoSmithKline and University of Strathclyde describe speeding up the process.
The approach is called direct-to-biology high-throughput chemistry (D2B-HTC). Recognizing that purification is often the rate-limiting step in library synthesis, the researchers synthesized PhABits in 384-well plates and used the crude reaction mixtures directly. In short, a diazirine moiety linked to an activated ester was reacted for 24 hours with 1073 diverse alkylamines chosen from the GlaxoSmithKline internal collection. Interestingly, 54 of the amines themselves were not pure as judged by LC-MS – a useful reminder of the importance of quality control. Ultimately, 853 of the reactions were deemed successful, with >80% purity. Residual activated ester was quenched with hydroxylamine, and the reactions were performed in biologically compatible DMSO so that they could be used directly.
Next, each member of the library was screened at 100 µM against human carbonic anhydrase I (CAI, at 1 µM), a well-characterized model protein. After UV light illumination (302 nm for 10 minutes) the reactions were analyzed by mass spectrometry, resulting in seven hits, defined as > 1.5% covalent adduct. Five of these contained a primary sulfonamide, a privileged pharmacophore for carbonic anhydrases. Dose response experiments gave similar results on both the crude mixtures as well as resynthesized, pure compounds, with the best molecule showing high nanomolar activity. All seven PhABits could be competed with the known ligand ethoxzolamide, suggesting that they bind in the active site of the enzyme.
The seven hits gave even higher levels of modification with carbonic anhydrase II (CAII), and four of the sulfonamide-containing hits were further characterized by proteolyzing the modified enzyme and using LC-MS/MS to determine the sites of modification. This revealed that the PhABits were reacting with either a glutamic acid or histidine residue at the entrance of the active site. As we discussed last year, the precise nature of the diazirine probe can affect which amino acid residues are likely to react.
Based on the SAR from the primary screen, a second 100-member library was constructed and screened without purification. This provided a much higher hit rate, with all 52 hits containing a primary sulfonamide.
I do wish the researchers had used an orthogonal method to assess the affinities of their molecules. One drawback of the approach, which they note, is that “the absolute value of the crosslinking yield is not indicative of binding affinity,” but it would be interesting to know whether there is any correlation at all. It would also be nice to get a sense of how often false negatives occur.