Lokey Research Group

Highlighted Published Research Projects

Lipophilic Permeability Efficiency Reconciles the Opposing Roles of Lipophilicity in Membrane Permeability and Aqueous Solubility


As drug discovery moves increasingly toward previously “undruggable” targets such as protein–protein interactions, lead compounds are becoming larger and more lipophilic. Although increasing lipophilicity can improve membrane permeability, it can also incur serious liabilities, including poor water solubility, increased toxicity, and faster metabolic clearance. Here we introduce a new efficiency metric, especially relevant to “beyond rule of 5” molecules, that captures, in a simple, unitless value, these opposing effects of lipophilicity on molecular properties. Lipophilic permeability efficiency (LPE) is defined as log D7.4dec/w – mlipocLogP + bscaffold, where log D7.4dec/w is the experimental decadiene–water distribution coefficient (pH 7.4), cLogP is the calculated octanol–water partition coefficient, and mlipo and bscaffold are scaling factors to standardize LPE values across different cLogP metrics and scaffolds. Using a variety of peptidic and nonpeptidic macrocycle drugs, we show that LPE provides a functional assessment of the efficiency with which a compound achieves passive membrane permeability at a given lipophilicity. Link

Using 1H and 13C NMR chemical shifts to determine cyclic peptide conformations: a combined molecular dynamics and quantum mechanics approach


Solving conformations of cyclic peptides can provide insight into structure–activity and structure–property relationships, which can help in the design of compounds with improved bioactivity and/or ADME characteristics. The most common approaches for determining the structures of cyclic peptides are based on NMR-derived distance restraints obtained from NOESY or ROESY cross-peak intensities, and 3J-based dihedral restraints using the Karplus relationship. Unfortunately, these observables are often too weak, sparse, or degenerate to provide unequivocal, high-confidence solution structures, prompting us to investigate an alternative approach that relies only on 1H and 13C chemical shifts as experimental observables. This method, which we call conformational analysis from NMR and density-functional prediction of low-energy ensembles (CANDLE), uses molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to generate conformer families and density functional theory (DFT) calculations to predict their 1H and 13C chemical shifts. Iterative conformer searches and DFT energy calculations on a cyclic peptide–peptoid hybrid yielded Boltzmann ensembles whose predicted chemical shifts matched the experimental values better than any single conformer. For these compounds, CANDLE outperformed the classic NOE- and 3J-coupling-based approach by disambiguating similar β-turn types and also enabled the structural elucidation of the minor conformer. Through the use of chemical shifts, in conjunction with DFT and MD calculations, CANDLE can help illuminate conformational ensembles of cyclic peptides in solution. Link

CycLS: Accurate, whole-library sequencing of cyclic peptides using tandem mass spectrometry


Cyclic peptides are of great interest as therapeutic compounds due to their potential for specificity and intracellular activity, but specific compounds can be difficult to identify from large libraries without resorting to molecular encoding techniques. Large libraries of cyclic peptides are often DNA-encoded or linearized before sequencing, but both of those deconvolution strategies constrain the chemistry, assays, and quantification methods which can be used. We developed an automated sequencing program, CycLS, to identify cyclic peptides contained within large synthetic libraries. CycLS facilitates quick and easy identification of all library-members via tandem mass spectrometry data without requiring any specific chemical moieties or modifications within the library. Validation of CycLS against a library of 400 cyclic hexapeptide peptoid hybrids (peptomers) of unique mass yielded a result of 95% accuracy when compared against a simulated library size of 234,256 compounds. CycLS was also evaluated by resynthesizing pure compounds from a separate 1800-member library of cyclic hexapeptides and hexapeptomers with high mass redundancy. Of 22 peptides resynthesized, 17 recapitulated the retention times and fragmentation patterns assigned to them from the whole-library bulk assay results. Implementing a database-matching approach, CycLS is fast and provides a robust method for sequencing cyclic peptides that is particularly applicable to the deconvolution of synthetic libraries.Link

Discovery of Potent and Orally Bioavailable Macrocyclic Peptide–Peptoid Hybrid CXCR7 Modulators.


The chemokine receptor CXCR7 is an attractive target for a variety of diseases. While several small-molecule modulators of CXCR7 have been reported, peptidic macrocycles may provide advantages in terms of potency, selectivity, and reduced off-target activity. We produced a series of peptidic macrocycles that incorporate an N-linked peptoid functionality where the peptoid group enabled us to explore side-chain diversity well beyond that of natural amino acids. At the same time, theoretical calculations and experimental assays were used to track and reduce the polarity while closely monitoring the physicochemical properties. This strategy led to the discovery of macrocyclic peptide–peptoid hybrids with high CXCR7 binding affinities (Ki < 100 nM) and measurable passive permeability (Papp > 5 × 10–6 cm/s). Moreover, bioactive peptide 25 (Ki = 9 nM) achieved oral bioavailability of 18% in rats, which was commensurate with the observed plasma clearance values upon intravenous administration. Link

Synthetic Cyclic Peptomers as Type III Secretion System Inhibitors.


Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an emerging threat to global public health. New classes of antibiotics and tools for antimicrobial discovery are urgently needed. Type III secretion systems (T3SS), which are required by dozens of Gram-negative bacteria for virulence but largely absent from nonpathogenic bacteria, are promising virulence blocker targets. The ability of mammalian cells to recognize the presence of a functional T3SS and trigger NF-κB activation provides a rapid and sensitive method for identifying chemical inhibitors of T3SS activity. In this study, we generated a HEK293 stable cell line expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) driven by a promoter containing NF-κB enhancer elements to serve as a readout of T3SS function. We identified a family of synthetic cyclic peptide-peptoid hybrid molecules (peptomers) that exhibited dose-dependent inhibition of T3SS effector secretion in Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa without affecting bacterial growth or motility. Among these inhibitors, EpD-3'N, EpD-1,2N, EpD-1,3'N, EpD-1,2,3'N, and EpD-1,2,4'N exhibited strong inhibitory effects on translocation of the Yersinia YopM effector protein into mammalian cells (>40% translocation inhibition at 7.5 μM) and showed no toxicity to mammalian cells at 240 μM. In addition, EpD-3'N and EpD-1,2,4'N reduced the rounding of HeLa cells caused by the activity of Yersinia effector proteins that target the actin cytoskeleton. In summary, we have discovered a family of novel cyclic peptomers that inhibit the injectisome T3SS but not the flagellar T3SS. Link

Non-Classical Size Dependence of Permeation Defines Bounds for Passive Adsorption of Large Drug Molecules.


There is a growing number of intracellular protein-protein interactions (PPI's) with potential therapeutic importance that demand larger ligands than those that neatly fit into most common criteria for "drug-likeness". Macrocyclic peptides pro-vide the large surface area required to inhibit PPIs and, in principle, avoid many of the pitfalls associated with peptides, including low stability and membrane permeability. However, the design of passively cell-permeable molecules in this space remains a great challenge due to the poorly understood roles of molecular size and lipophilicity in determining pas-sive membrane permeability above MW ~500. Using split-pool combinatorial synthesis, we constructed a library of cyclic, per-N-methlyated peptides spanning a wide range of calculated lipohilicities (0 < AlogP < 8) and molecular weights (~800 Da < MW < ~1200 Da). Assaying mixtures of compounds using the Parallel Artificial Membrane Assay (PAMPA) revealed a steep drop-off in apparent passive permeability with increasing size and a bilinear relationship with lipophilicity. We ob-served a size dependence of permeability that is in stark disagreement with current permeation models. The lipophilicities required to overcome this size penalty led to poor aqueous solubility, effectively bounding the chemical space of likely pas-sively permeable molecules. This understanding provides a new set of design criteria for achieving permeability in larger molecular size regimes and suggests an operational cut-off beyond which passive permeability is constrained by a sharply increasing penalty on permeation through the system. Link

Passive Membrane Permeability in Cyclic Peptomer Scaffolds Is Robust to Extensive Variation in Side Chain Functionality and Backbone Geometry


Synthetic and natural cyclic peptides provide a testing ground for studying membrane permeability in nontraditional drug scaffolds. Cyclic peptomers, which incorporate peptide and N-alkylglycine (peptoid) residues, combine the stereochemical and geometric complexity of peptides with the functional group diversity accessible to peptoids. We synthesized cyclic peptomer libraries by split-pool techniques, separately permuting side chain and backbone geometry, and analyzed their membrane permeabilities using the parallel artificial membrane permeability assay. Nearly half of the side chain permutations had permeability coefficients (Papp) > 1 × 10-6cm/s. Some backbone geometries enhanced permeability due to their ability to form more stable intramolecular hydrogen bond networks compared with other scaffolds. These observations suggest that hexameric cyclic peptomers can have good passive permeability even in the context of extensive side chain and backbone variation, and that high permeability can generally be achieved within a relatively wide lipophilicity range. Link

Stereochemistry Balances Cell Permeability and Solubility in the Naturally Derived Phepropeptin Cyclic Peptides


Cyclic peptide (CP) natural products provide useful model systems for mapping "beyond-Rule-of-5" (bRo5) space. We identified the phepropeptins as natural product CPs with potential cell permeability. Synthesis of the phepropeptins and epimeric analogues revealed much more rapid cellular permeability for the natural stereochemical pattern. Despite being more cell permeable, the natural compounds exhibited similar aqueous solubility as the corresponding epimers, a phenomenon explained by solvent-dependent conformational flexibility among the natural compounds. When analyzing the polarity of the solution structures we found that neither the number of hydrogen bonds nor the total polar surface area accurately represents the solvation energies of the high and low dielectric conformations. This work adds to a growing number of natural CPs whose solvent-dependent conformational behavior allows for a balance between aqueous solubility and cell permeability, highlighting structural flexibility as an important consideration in the design of molecules in bRo5 chemical space. Link

Going Out on a Limb: Delineating The Effects of β-Branching, N-Methylation, and Side Chain Size on the Passive Permeability, Solubility, and Flexibility of Sanguinamide A Analogues.


It is well established that intramolecular hydrogen bonding and N-methylation play important roles in the passive permeability of cyclic peptides, but other structural features have been explored less intensively. Recent studies on the oral bioavailability of the cyclic heptapeptide sanguinamide A have raised the question of whether steric occlusion of polar groups via β-branching is an effective, yet untapped, tool in cyclic peptide permeability optimization. We report the structures of 17 sanguinamide A analogues designed to test the relative contributions of β-branching, N-methylation, and side chain size to passive membrane permeability and aqueous solubility. We demonstrate that β-branching has little effect on permeability compared to the effects of aliphatic carbon count and N-methylation of exposed NH groups. We highlight a new N-methylated analogue of sanguinamide A with a Leu substitution at position 2 that exhibits solvent-dependent flexibility and improved permeability over that of the natural product. Link

Phenotype-Guided Natural Products Discovery Using Cytological Profiling


Phenotype-guided natural products discovery is emerging as a useful new discovery tool that addresses challenges in early, unbiased natural product biological annotation. These high-content approaches yield screening results that report directly on the impact of test compounds on cellular processes in target organisms and can be used to predict the modes of action of bioactive constituents from primary screening data. In this study we explored the use of our recently implemented cytological profiling platform for the isolation of compounds with a specific, predefined mode of action, namely, induction of mitotic arrest. Screening of a microbially derived extract library revealed six extracts whose cytological profiles clustered closely with those of known antimitotic agents from the pure compound training set. Subsequent examination of one of these extracts revealed the presence of two separate bioactive constituents, each of which possessed a unique cytological profile. The first, diketopiperazine XR334 (3), recapitulated the observed antimitotic phenotype of the original extract, demonstrating that cytological profiling can be used for the targeted isolation of compounds with specific modes of action. The second, nocapyrone L (6), possessed a cytological profile that clustered with known calcium channel modulators, in line with previous published activities for this compound class, indicating that cytological profiling is a flexible and powerful platform for the de novo characterization of compound modes of action. Link

Peptide to Peptoid Substitutions Increase Cell Permeability in Cyclic Hexapeptides


The effect of peptide-to-peptoid substitutions on the passive membrane permeability of an N-methylated cyclic hexapeptide is examined. In general, substitutions maintained permeability but increased conformational heterogeneity. Diversification with nonproteinogenic side chains increased permeability up to 3-fold. Additionally, the conformational impact of peptoid substitutions within a β-turn are explored. Based on these results, the strategic incorporation of peptoid residues into cyclic peptides can maintain or improve cell permeability, while increasing access to diverse side-chain functionality. Link

Probing the Physicochemical Boundaries of Cell Permeability and Oral Bioavailability in Lipophilic Macrocycles Inspired by Natural Products.


Cyclic peptide natural products contain a variety of conserved, nonproteinogenic structural elements such as d-amino acids and amide N-methylation. In addition, many cyclic peptides incorporate γ-amino acids and other elements derived from polyketide synthases. We hypothesized that the position and orientation of these extended backbone elements impact the ADME properties of these hybrid molecules, especially their ability to cross cell membranes and avoid metabolic degradation. Here we report the synthesis of cyclic hexapeptide diastereomers containing γ-amino acids (e.g., statines) and systematically investigate their structure-permeability relationships. These compounds were much more water-soluble and, in many cases, were both more membrane permeable and more stable to liver microsomes than a similar non-statine-containing derivative. Permeability correlated well with the extent of intramolecular hydrogen bonding observed in the solution structures determined in the low-dielectric solvent CDCl3, and one compound showed an oral bioavailability of 21% in rat. Thus, the incorporation of γ-amino acids offers a route to increase backbone diversity and improve ADME properties in cyclic peptide scaffolds.Link

Cell-Permeable Cyclic Peptides from Synthetic Libraries Inspired by Natural Products.


Drug design efforts are turning to a new generation of therapeutic targets, such as protein-protein interactions (PPIs), that had previously been considered "undruggable" by typical small molecules. There is an emerging view that accessing these targets will require molecules that are larger and more complex than typical small molecule drugs. Here, we present a methodology for the discovery of geometrically diverse, membrane permeable cyclic peptide scaffolds based on the synthesis and permeability screening of a combinatorial library, followed by deconvolution of membrane-permeable scaffolds to identify cyclic peptides with good to excellent passive cell permeabilities. We use a combination of experimental and computational approaches to investigate structure-permeability relationships in one of these scaffolds, and uncover structural and conformational factors that govern passive membrane diffusion in a related set of cyclic peptide diastereomers. Further, we investigate the dependency of permeability on side-chain identity of one of these scaffolds through single-point diversifications to show the adaptability of these scaffolds toward development of permeability-biased libraries suitable for bioactivity screens. Overall, our results demonstrate that many novel, cell permeable scaffolds exist beyond those found in extant natural products, and that such scaffolds can be rapidly identified using a combination of synthesis and deconvolution which can, in principle, be applied to any type of macrocyclic template. Link

Confirmation of the cellular targets of benomyl and rapamycin using next-generation sequencing of resistant mutants in S. cerevisiae.


Investigating the mechanisms of action (MOAs) of bioactive compounds and the deconvolution of their cellular targets is an important and challenging undertaking. Drug resistance in model organisms such as S. cerevisiae has long been a means for discovering drug targets and MOAs. Strains are selected for resistance to a drug of interest, and the resistance mutations can often be mapped to the drug’s molecular target using classical genetic techniques. Here we demonstrate the use of next generation sequencing (NGS) to identify mutations that confer resistance to two well-characterized drugs, benomyl and rapamycin. Applying NGS to pools of drug-resistant mutants, we develop a simple system for ranking single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) based on their prevalence in the pool, and for ranking genes based on the number of SNPs that they contain. We clearly identified the known targets of benomyl (TUB2) and rapamycin (FPR1) as the highest-ranking genes under this system. The highest- ranking SNPs corresponded to specific amino acid changes that are known to confer resistance to these drugs. We also found that by screening in a pdr1Δ null background strain that lacks a transcription factor regulating the expression of drug efflux pumps, and by pre-screening mutants in a panel of unrelated anti-fungal agents, we were able to mitigate against the selection of multi-drug resistance (MDR) mutants. We call our approach ‘‘Mutagenesis to Uncover Targets by deep Sequencing’’, or ‘‘MUTseq’’, and show through this proof-of-concept study its potential utility in characterizing MOAs and targets of novel compounds. Link

Large-scale cytological profiling for functional analysis of bioactive compounds


Cytological profiling (CP) is an unbiased image-based screening technique that uses automated microscopy and image analysis to profile compounds based on numerous quantifiable phenotypic features. We used CP to evaluate a library of nearly 500 compounds with documented mechanisms of action (MOAs) spanning a wide range of biological pathways. We developed informatics techniques for generating dosage- independent phenotypic “fingerprints” for each compound, and for quantifying the likelihood that a compound’s CP fingerprint corresponds to its annotated MOA. We identified groups of features that distinguish classes with closely related phenotypes, such as microtubule poisons vs. HSP90 inhibitors, and DNA synthesis vs. proteasome inhibitors. We tested several cases in which cytological profiles indicated novel mechanisms, including a tyrphostin kinase inhibitor involved in mitochondrial uncoupling, novel microtubule poisons, and a nominal PPAR-gamma ligand that acts as a proteasome inhibitor, using independent biochemical assays to confirm the MOAs predicted by the CP signatures. We also applied maximal-information statistics to identify correlations between cytological features and kinase inhibitory activities by combining the CP fingerprints of 24 kinase inhibitors with published data on their specificities against a diverse panel of kinases. The resulting analysis suggests a strategy for probing the biological functions of specific kinases by compiling cytological data from inhibitors of varying specificities. Link

Optimizing PK properties of cyclic peptides: the effect of side chain substitutions on permeability and clearance


A series of cyclic peptides were designed and prepared to investigate the physicochemical properties that affect oral bioavailabilty of this chemotype in rats. In particular, the ionization state of the peptide was examined by the incorporation of naturally occurring amino acid residues that are charged in differing regions of the gut. In addition, data was generated in a variety of in vitro assays and the usefulness of this data in predicting the subsequent oral bioavailability observed in the rat is discussed. Link

On-resin N-methylation of cyclic peptides for discovery of orally bioavailable scaffolds


Backbone N-methylation is common among peptide natural products and has a substantial impact on both the physical properties and the conformational states of cyclic peptides. However, the specific impact of N-methylation on passive membrane diffusion in cyclic peptides has not been investigated systematically. Here we report a method for the selective, on-resin N-methylation of cyclic peptides to generate compounds with drug-like membrane permeability and oral bioavailability. The selectivity and degree of N-methylation of the cyclic peptide was dependent on backbone stereochemistry, suggesting that conformation dictates the regiochemistry of the N-methylation reaction. The permeabilities of the N-methyl variants were corroborated by computational studies on a 1,024-member virtual library of N-methyl cyclic peptides. One of the most permeable compounds, a cyclic hexapeptide (molecular mass = 755 Da) with three N-methyl groups, showed an oral bioavailability of 28% in rat. Link

The synthetic genetic interaction network reveals small molecules that target specific pathways in Sacchromyces cerevisiae.


High-throughput elucidation of synthetic genetic interactions (SGIs) has contributed to a systems-level understanding of genetic robustness and fault-tolerance encoded in the genome. Pathway targets of various compounds have been predicted by comparing chemical-genetic synthetic interactions to a network of SGIs. We demonstrate that the SGI network can also be used in a powerful reverse pathway-to-drug approach for identifying compounds that target specific pathways of interest. Using the SGI network, the method identifies an indicator gene that may serve as a good candidate for screening a library of compounds. The indicator gene is selected so that compounds found to produce sensitivity in mutants deleted for the indicator gene are likely to abrogate the target pathway. We tested the utility of the SGI network for pathway-to-drug discovery using the DNA damage checkpoint as the target pathway. An analysis of the compendium of synthetic lethal interactions in yeast showed that superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) has significant SGI connectivity with a large subset of DNA damage checkpoint and repair (DDCR) genes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and minimal SGIs with non-DDCR genes. We screened a sod1Δ strain against three National Cancer Institute (NCI) compound libraries using a soft agar high-throughput halo assay. Fifteen compounds out of ∼3100 screened showed selective toxicity toward sod1Δ relative to the isogenic wild type (wt) strain. One of these, 1A08, caused a transient increase in growth in the presence of sublethal doses of DNA damaging agents, suggesting that 1A08 inhibits DDCR signaling in yeast. Genome-wide screening of 1A08 against the library of viable homozygous deletion mutants further supported DDCR as the relevant targeted pathway of 1A08. When assayed in human HCT-116 colorectal cancer cells, 1A08 caused DNA-damage resistant DNA synthesis and blocked the DNA-damage checkpoint selectively in S-phase. Link

Direct conversion of resin-bound peptides to C-terminal esters.


A mild and effective method was developed to convert peptides immobilized on the 2-chlorotrityl and Wang resins directly to C-terminal esters. After conventional Fmoc peptide synthesis, treatment with anhydrous HCl (0.2-3 M) in a variety of alcohols was shown to produce the corresponding peptide esters in good yield and purity. Under the mildest conditions investigated, acid-sensitive protection groups such as N-Boc, trityl, tert-butyl ether, tert-butyl ester, and Pbf remain intact. Link

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