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Nat Biotechnol. 2003 Mar;21(3):308-14. Epub 2003 Feb 3.

In situ assembly of enzyme inhibitors using extended tethering.

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  • 1Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 341 Oyster Point Boulevard, South San Francisco, CA 94080, USA.


Cysteine aspartyl protease-3 (caspase-3) is a mediator of apoptosis and a therapeutic target for a wide range of diseases. Using a dynamic combinatorial technology, 'extended tethering', we identified unique nonpeptidic inhibitors for this enzyme. Extended tethering allowed the identification of ligands that bind to discrete regions of caspase-3 and also helped direct the assembly of these ligands into small-molecule inhibitors. We first designed a small-molecule 'extender' that irreversibly alkylates the cysteine residue of caspase-3 and also contains a thiol group. The modified protein was then screened against a library of disulfide-containing small-molecule fragments. Mass-spectrometry was used to identify ligands that bind noncovalently to the protein and that also form a disulfide linkage with the extender. Linking the selected fragments with binding elements from the extenders generates reversible, tight-binding molecules that are druglike and distinct from known inhibitors. One molecule derived from this approach inhibited apoptosis in cells.

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