Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry
Although botulinum neurotoxin serotype A (BoNT/A) is known for its use in cosmetics, it causes a potentially fatal illness, botulism, and can be used as a bioterror weapon. Many compounds have been developed that inhibit the BoNTA zinc-metalloprotease light chain (LC), however, none of these inhibitors have advanced to clinical trials. In this study, a fragment-based approach was implemented to develop novel covalent inhibitors of BoNT/A LC. First, electrophilic fragments were screened against BoNT/A LC, and benzoquinone (BQ) derivatives were found to be active. In kinetic studies, BQ compounds acted as irreversible inhibitors that presumably covalently modify cysteine 165 of BoNT/A LC. Although most BQ derivatives were highly reactive toward glutathione in vitro, a few compounds such as natural product naphthazarin displayed low thiol reactivity and good BoNT/A inhibition. In order to increase the potency of the BQ fragment, computational docking studies were employed to elucidate a scaffold that could bind to sites adjacent to Cys165 while positioning a BQ fragment at Cys165 for covalent modification; 2-amino-N-arylacetamides met these criteria and when linked to BQ displayed at least a 20-fold increase in activity to low M IC values. Unlike BQ alone, the linked-BQ compounds demonstrated only weak irreversible inhibition and therefore acted mainly as non-covalent inhibitors. Further kinetic studies revealed a mutual exclusivity of BQ covalent inactivation and competitive inhibitor binding to sites adjacent to Cys165, refuting the viability of the current strategy for developing more potent irreversible BoNT/A inhibitors. The highlights of this study include the discovery of BQ compounds as irreversible BoNT/A inhibitors and the rational design of low M IC50 competitive inhibitors that depend on the BQ moiety for activity.