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Folic Acid–Peptide Conjugates Combine Selective Cancer Cell Internalization with Thymidylate Synthase Dimer Interface Targeting

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-03-12, 20:38 authored by Gaetano Marverti, Chiara Marraccini, Andrea Martello, Domenico D’Arca, Salvatore Pacifico, Remo Guerrini, Francesca Spyrakis, Gaia Gozzi, Angela Lauriola, Matteo Santucci, Giuseppe Cannazza, Lorenzo Tagliazucchi, Addolorata Stefania Cazzato, Lorena Losi, Stefania Ferrari, Glauco Ponterini, Maria P. Costi
Drug–target interaction, cellular internalization, and target engagement should be addressed to design a lead with high chances of success in further optimization stages. Accordingly, we have designed conjugates of folic acid with anticancer peptides able to bind human thymidylate synthase (hTS) and enter cancer cells through folate receptor α (FRα) highly expressed by several cancer cells. Mechanistic analyses and molecular modeling simulations have shown that these conjugates bind the hTS monomer–monomer interface with affinities over 20 times larger than the enzyme active site. When tested on several cancer cell models, these conjugates exhibited FRα selectivity at nanomolar concentrations. A similar selectivity was observed when the conjugates were delivered in synergistic or additive combinations with anticancer agents. At variance with 5-fluorouracil and other anticancer drugs that target the hTS catalytic pocket, these conjugates do not induce overexpression of this protein and can thus help combating drug resistance associated with high hTS levels.