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Identification of exosite-targeting inhibitors of anthrax lethal factor by high-throughput screening

Bannwarth, L;Goldberg, AB;Chen, C;Turk, BE;

Protease inhibitor discovery has focused almost exclusively on compounds that bind to the active site. Inhibitors targeting protease exosites, regions outside of the active site that influence catalysis, offer potential advantages of increased specificity but are difficult to systematically discover. Here, we describe an assay suitable for detecting exosite-targeting inhibitors of the metalloproteinase anthrax lethal factor (LF) based on cleavage of a full-length mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MKK) substrate. We used this assay to screen a small-molecule library and then subjected hits to a secondary screen to exclude compounds that efficiently blocked cleavage of a peptide substrate. We identified a compound that preferentially inhibited cleavage of MKKs compared with peptide substrates and could suppress LF-induced macrophage cytolysis. This approach should be generally applicable to the discovery of exosite-targeting inhibitors of many additional proteases.