Novel screening techniques for the discovery of human KMO inhibitors
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Kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO) is an enzyme central to the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan degradation. KMO is emerging as an increasingly important target for drug development. The enzyme is implicated in the development and progression of several neurodegenerative disorders, in the regulation of the immune response and in sterile systemic inflammation. Production of recombinant human enzyme is challenging due to the presence of transmembrane domains, which localise KMO to the outer mitochondrial membrane and render KMO insoluble in many in vitro expression systems. Although several in vitro KMO assay techniques have been reported in the literature these methods are typically insensitive or require purified protein for use in high-throughput screening assays of human KMO enzyme. The first report of bacterial expression of soluble active human KMO enzyme is described here. Fusion protein tags were used to optimise soluble expression and enable characterisation and partial purification of the active protein constructs. Functional enzyme was used to develop several novel high-throughput drug screening techniques for the discovery of inhibitors specifically targeting human KMO. These screening techniques were fully characterised and validated using known KMO inhibitors from the patent literature. One of the novel KMO assay techniques was implemented for compound screening and several hit compounds were identified, validated and their in vitro DMPK characteristics determined. In addition to assay development, KMO was characterised at the cellular level when overexpressed in HEK293 cells. These experiments indicated that KMO overexpressing cells undergo bidirectional adaptation via alteration of kynurenine pathway homeostasis. As a result, these cells are protected from cytotoxicity mediated by 3-hydroxykynurenine (3-HK), the toxic product of KMO catalysis. The development of novel high throughput screening techniques targeting KMO has enabled screening of potential new inhibitors specifically targeting the human enzyme. Implementation of these screening assays will allow accelerated and improved discovery and development of novel KMO inhibitors for the potential treatment of numerous disease states.