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Dissecting the Pharmacophore of Curcumin. Which Structural Element Is Critical for Which Action?

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journal contribution
posted on 28.06.2013, 00:00 by Alberto Minassi, Gonzalo Sánchez-Duffhues, Juan Antonio Collado, Eduardo Muñoz, Giovanni Appendino
The dietary phenolic curcumin (1a) is the archetypal network pharmacological agent, but is characterized by an ill-defined pharmacophore. Nevertheless, structure–activity studies of 1a have mainly focused on a single biological end-point and on a single structural element, the aliphatic bis-enoyl moiety. The comparative investigation of more than one end-point of curcumin and the modification of its aromatic region have been largely overlooked. To address these issues, we have investigated the effect of aromatic C-prenylation in the three archetypal structural types of curcuminoids, namely, curcumin itself (1a), its truncated analogue 2a (C5-curcumin), and (as the reduced isoamyl version) the tetrahydro derivative 3a, comparatively evaluating reactivity with thiols and activity in biochemical (inhibition of NF-κB, HIV-1-Tat transactivation, Nrf2 activation) and phenotypic (anti-HIV action) assays sensitive, to a various extent, to thia-Michael addition. Prenylation, a validated maneuver for bioactivity modulation in plant phenolics, had no effect on Michael reactivity, but was detrimental for all biological end-points investigated, dissecting thiol trapping from activity, while hydrogenation attenuated, but did not completely abrogate, the activity of 1a. The C5-curcuminoid 2a outperformed the natural product in all end-points investigated and was identified as a novel high-potency anti-HIV lead in a cellular model of HIV infection. Taken together, these observations show that Michael reactivity is a critical element of the curcumin pharmacophore, but also reveal a surprising sensitivity of bioactivity to C-prenylation of the vanillyl moiety.