G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) constitute the largest family of membrane proteins in the human genome with approximately 800 members. GPCR signaling through multiple effector pathways has profound therapeutic implications, making these receptors the targets of ~40% of currently marketed drugs. Modulation of GPCR activity by small molecule ligands is emerging as a new strategy for development of anticancer therapeutics. However, design of new drugs with higher efficacy and lower side effects, and detailed understanding of GPCR mechanism of action are hampered by the limited structural information. Structural studies of many GPCRs are in turn limited by a scarcity of high-affinity ligands that stabilize GPCRs and enable their crystallization. The project attempts to develop a new platform using the in situ click chemistry approach to discover novel ligands that bind GPCRs to serve as tool compounds for structural and functional studies or as starting point for drug discovery. Target-guided synthesis approaches including in situ click chemistry, by which reactive fragments are joined in the binding sites of a biological target, have shown great promise in drug discovery but have not been applied to GPCRs. The challenges lie in the GPCRs'membrane disposition, their high conformational dynamics, low stability and low expression levels. The proposed platform is being developed targeting all GPCRs, with initial focus primarily on those known to be cancer targets. In the two years of this study, we will focus on smoothened (SMO) receptor which is an orphan receptor and a key signal transducer in the Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway activated during development, and thus is a target of a number of antitumor drugs in clinical trials. Our goal will be attained by achieving the following two aims: (1) Establish an in situ click chemistry platform to generate high-affinity GPCR ligands, (2) Characterize the interaction between selected ligands from Aim 1 and SMO by crystallography. The study will be supported by a team that had developed the GPCR Structure Determination Pipeline as well as its underlying technologies which have led to the structure determination of 12 GPCR structures since 2007.

Public Health Relevance

G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), constituting the largest family of human membrane proteins involved in signal transmission, have emerged as crucial players in cancer development and progression. The proposed study will establish a new method for identification of novel potent GPCR ligands that could be used for structural and functional studies as well as for drug discovery. Study focuses on the Smoothened receptor, a key signal transducer in the Hedgehog signaling pathway and a target in various human cancers including advanced solid tumors, basal cell carcinoma, metastatic prostate cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, myeloid leukemia, pancreatic cancer, etc.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZCA1-SRLB-2 (O1))
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Knowlton, John R
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Scripps Research Institute
La Jolla
United States
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