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Journal of Medicinal Chemistry
J Med Chem. Apr 9, 2009; 52(7): 2067–2075.
Published online Mar 12, 2009. doi:  10.1021/jm801605r
PMCID: PMC2664636

Promiscuous Aggregate-Based Inhibitors Promote Enzyme Unfolding


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One of the leading sources of false positives in early drug discovery is the formation of organic small molecule aggregates, which inhibit enzymes nonspecifically at micromolar concentrations in aqueous solution. The molecular basis for this widespread problem remains hazy. To investigate the mechanism of inhibition at a molecular level, we determined changes in solvent accessibility that occur when an enzyme binds to an aggregate using hydrogen−deuterium exchange mass spectrometry. For AmpC β-lactamase, binding to aggregates of the small molecule rottlerin increased the deuterium exchange of all 10 reproducibly detectable peptides, which covered 41% of the sequence of β-lactamase. This suggested a global increase in proton accessibility upon aggregate binding, consistent with denaturation. We then investigated whether enzyme−aggregate complexes were more susceptible to proteolysis than uninhibited enzyme. For five aggregators, trypsin degradation of β-lactamase increased substantially when β-lactamase was inhibited by aggregates, whereas uninhibited enzyme was generally stable to digestion. Combined, these results suggest that the mechanism of action of aggregate-based inhibitors proceeds via partial protein unfolding when bound to an aggregate particle.

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