ConspectusSynthesis of a focused library is an important strategy to create novel modulators of specific classes of proteins. Compounds in a focused library are composed of a common core structure and different diversity structures. In this Account, we describe our design and synthesis of libraries focused on selective inhibitors of protein phosphatases (PPases). We considered that core structures having structural and electronic features similar to those of PPase substrates, phosphate esters, would be a reasonable choice. Therefore, we extracted core structures from natural products already identified as PPase inhibitors. Since many PPases share similar active-site structures, such phosphate-mimicking core structures should interact with many enzymes in the same family, and therefore the choice of diversity structures is pivotal both to increase the binding affinity and to achieve specificity for individual enzymes.Here we present case studies of application of focused libraries to obtain PPase inhibitors, covering the overall process from selection of core structures to identification and evaluation of candidates in the focused libraries. To synthesize a library focused on protein serine-threonine phosphatases (PPs), we chose norcantharidin as a core structure, because norcantharidin dicarboxylate shows a broad inhibition profile toward several PPs. From the resulting focused library, we identified a highly selective PP2B inhibitor, NCA-01. On the other hand, to find inhibitors of dual-specificity protein phosphatases (DSPs), we chose 3-acyltetronic acid extracted from natural product RK-682 as a core structure, because its structure resembles the transition state in the dephosphorylation reaction of DSPs. However, a highly selective inhibitor was not found in the resulting focused library. Furthermore, an inherent drawback of compounds having the highly acidic 3-acyltetronic acid as a core structure is very weak potency in cellulo, probably due to poor cell membrane permeability. Therefore, we next modified the core structure from acidic to neutral by transformation to the enamine derivative and constructed a second-generation focused library (RE derivatives). The resulting compounds showed dramatically improved cell membrane permeability and inhibitory selectivity and included VHR (vaccinia VH1-related)-selective RE12 and CDC25A/B (cell division cycle 25A/B)-selective RE44. These inhibitors act on target enzymes in cellulo and do not generate reactive oxygen species, which is a potential problem with quinoid-type inhibitors of CDC25s. The cellular activity of RE12 was further improved by replacement of the side chain to afford RE176, which showed more potent antiproliferative activity than RE12 against HeLa cells.The dramatic change of inhibitory selectivity obtained by core structure modification from 3-acyltetronic acid to its enamine derivative was associated with a change in the mode of action. Namely, RE derivatives were found to be noncompetitive inhibitors with respect to a small-molecular substrate of CDC25A/B, whereas RK-682 was a competitive inhibitor of VHR. We identified the binding site of RE derivatives on the CDC25A as a pocket adjacent to the active site; this appears to be a promising target site for development of further novel inhibitors of CDC25s.
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