Ligand discovery for protein-protein interaction targets using 19F NMR-based screening of novel peptide and fragment libraries
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The main aim of this thesis was to discover and design new ligands for difficult, under-explored and clinically relevant protein targets. A number of protein-protein interaction complexes (PPIs) are introduced as the target focus for the methods employed and developed herein. This thesis is separated into two sections to independently address both peptides and small molecules as screening agents. The project examines both approaches through comprehensive library design strategies and screening by NMR spectroscopic methods. ATAD2 is the first PPI investigated and was expressed and purified in good yield and was also isotopically labelled with Nitrogen-15 for enhanced sensitivity and orthogonal ligand and protein-observed NMR methods. A known pentapeptide was synthesised by solid-phase peptide synthesis (SPPS) using Fmoc chemistry for target validation and tool compound development. A one-bead one-compound (OBOC) tripeptide library was synthesised by SPPS in good yield and purity, determined using single-bead labelling techniques with a fluorescent dye (TMR) and HPLC analysis. This library contained 3072 unique tripeptides with 12 central non-natural, lysine derivatives flanked by 16 natural L amino acids. The library screening technique was based on using a fluorescently labelled protein and Confocal Nanoscanning to detect binding. However, fluorescent labelling of ATAD2 was unsuccessful due to difficult protein handling conditions, therefore this library was not screened. The advent of small molecule, high affinity inhibitors of this target protein generated by GSK shifted focus to a different PPI target, the ubiquitin conjugating enzyme, UbE2L3. A novel “on-protein peptide building” approach was introduced with the aim of screening a library of fluorinated dipeptides and extending the most potent via the ‘N’ and ‘C’ terminus to increase the affinity. A proof-of-concept tetrapeptide to survivin was synthesised by SPPS by incorporation of a non-natural, fluorinated amino acid in the known tetrapeptide sequence. This fluorinated derivative showed target binding activity by 19F NMR spectroscopy. The tripeptide and dipeptide truncates were synthesised by SPPS and binding was still observable by 19F NMR. This method was extended to screening a library of synthesised fluorinated dipeptides by 19F NMR against UbE2L3. A single dipeptide was identified with low affinity and the dipeptide was extended C and N terminally by SPPS to increase affinity. However, there were no tripeptides identified for this protein using this method. The proof of concept tetrapeptide was a success, therefore further protein targets are required to conclusively assess the viability of the approach. Fragment based screening is then introduced as a second approach to novel ligand discovery. Coupled with cheminformatics analysis and in silico library design, we created an in-house fluorinated fragment library consisting of 109 fluorinated fragments using three parallel methods. Compounds were purchased and quality checked by LCMS, HPLC and 19F-NMR. These fragment libraries were screened in a 19F NMR assay against the UbE2L3 and NusE/NusB protein targets. In a primary mixture screen, two fragment hits were identified against the NusE/NusB PPI and there were no fragment hits identified against the UbE2L3 protein. The two fragments against NusE/NusB were validated using orthogonal ligand-binding NMR methods. A mini-series, consisting of six commercially available analogues, were purchased and two fragment analogues showed increased affinity and were active against E. coli in a bacterial inhibition assay. The dissociation constants of the six active compounds were determined by 15N-HSQC NMR titration experiments and shown to be in 100 – 500 μM range. The binding sites of each compound were also determined by 15N-HSQC chemical shift mapping. These fragment hits represent a novel chemical scaffold identified against the NusE/NusB PPI and demonstrate the potential druggability of this new, complex target. The use of fluorine as a sensor for binding detection is evaluated by incorporating into both peptides and fragments. Through the use of novel library design strategies, a campaign to discover novel ligands of difficult protein targets is presented.