Targeting the cryptic sites: NMR-based strategy to improve protein druggability by controlling the conformational equilibrium

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Science Advances  30 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 40, eabd0480
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd0480


Cryptic ligand binding sites, which are not evident in the unligated structures, are beneficial in tackling with difficult but attractive drug targets, such as protein-protein interactions (PPIs). However, cryptic sites have thus far not been rationally pursued in the early stages of drug development. Here, we demonstrated by nuclear magnetic resonance that the cryptic site in Bcl-xL exists in a conformational equilibrium between the open and closed conformations under the unligated condition. While the fraction of the open conformation in the unligated wild-type Bcl-xL is estimated to be low, F143W mutation that is distal from the ligand binding site can substantially elevate the population. The F143W mutant showed a higher hit rate in a phage-display peptide screening, and the hit peptide bound to the cryptic site of the wild-type Bcl-xL. Therefore, by controlling the conformational equilibrium in the cryptic site, the opportunity to identify a PPI inhibitor could be improved.

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