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bioRxiv DOI:10.1101/376764

Targeting a Therapy-Resistant Cancer Cell State Using Masked Electrophiles as GPX4 Inhibitors

Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsEaton, JK, Furst, L, Ruberto, RA, Moosmayer, D, Hilig, RC, Hilpmann, A, Zimmermann, K, Ryan, MJ, Niehues, M, Badock, V, Kramm, A, Chen, S, Clemons, PA, Gradl, S, Montagnon, C, Lazarski, KE, Christian, S, Bajrami, B, Neuhaus, R, Eheim, AL, Viswanathan, VS, Schreiber, SL
Date Published09/2018
Type of ArticlePreprint

We recently discovered that inhibition of the lipid peroxidase GPX4 can selectively kill cancer cells in a therapy-resistant state through induction of ferroptosis. Although GPX4 lacks a conventional druggable pocket, covalent small-molecule inhibitors are able to overcome this challenge by reacting with the GPX4 catalytic selenocysteine residue to eliminate enzymatic activity. Unfortunately, all currently-reported GPX4 inhibitors achieve their activity through reactive chloroacetamide groups. We demonstrate that such chloroacetamide-containing compounds are poor starting points for further advancement given their promiscuity, instability, and low bioavailability. Development of improved GPX4 inhibitors, including those with therapeutic potential, requires the identification of new electrophilic chemotypes and mechanisms of action that do not suffer these shortcomings. Here, we report our discovery that nitrile oxide electrophiles, and a set of remarkable chemical transformations that generates them in cells from masked precursors, provide an effective strategy for selective targeting of GPX4. Our results, which include structural insights, target engagement assays, and diverse GPX4-inhibitor tool compounds, provide critical insights that may galvanize development of improved compounds that illuminate the basic biology of GPX4 and therapeutic potential of ferroptosis induction. In addition, our discovery that nitrile oxide electrophiles engage in highly selective cellular interactions and are bioavailable in their masked forms may be relevant for targeting other currently undruggable proteins, such as those revealed by recent proteome-wide ligandability studies.