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Obtusaquinone: A Cysteine-Modifying Compound That Targets Keap1 for Degradation

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journal contribution
posted on 14.05.2020, 17:18 by Christian E. Badr, Cintia Carla da Hora, Aleksandar B. Kirov, Elie Tabet, Romain Amante, Semer Maksoud, Antoinette E. Nibbs, Evelyn Fitzsimons, Myriam Boukhali, John W. Chen, Norman H. L. Chiu, Ichiro Nakano, Wilhelm Haas, Ralph Mazitschek, Bakhos A. Tannous
We have previously identified the natural product obtusaquinone (OBT) as a potent antineoplastic agent with promising in vivo activity in glioblastoma and breast cancer through the activation of oxidative stress; however, the molecular properties of this compound remained elusive. We used a multidisciplinary approach comprising medicinal chemistry, quantitative mass spectrometry-based proteomics, functional studies in cancer cells, and pharmacokinetic analysis, as well as mouse xenograft models to develop and validate novel OBT analogs and characterize the molecular mechanism of action of OBT. We show here that OBT binds to cysteine residues with a particular affinity to cysteine-rich Keap1, a member of the CUL3 ubiquitin ligase complex. This binding promotes an overall stress response and results in ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation of Keap1 and downstream activation of the Nrf2 pathway. Using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging with the PET-tracer 2-[18F]­fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose (FDG), we confirm that OBT is able to penetrate the brain and functionally target brain tumors. Finally, we show that an OBT analog with improved pharmacological properties, including enhanced potency, stability, and solubility, retains the antineoplastic properties in a xenograft mouse model.

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