Tracking the PROTAC degradation pathway in living cells highlights the importance of ternary complex measurement for PROTAC optimization

  • The multistep PROTAC (PROteolysis TArgeting Chimeras) degradation process poses challenges for their rational development, as rate limiting steps determining PROTAC efficiency remain largely unknown. Moreover, the slow throughput of currently used endpoint assays does not allow the comprehensive analysis of larger series of PROTACs. Here we developed cell-based assays using NanoLuciferase and HaloTags, that allow measuring PROTAC induced degradation and ternary complex formation kinetics and stability in cells. Using PROTACs developed for degradation of WDR5, the characterization of the mode of action of these PROTACs in the early degradation cascade revealed a key role of ternary complex formation and stability. Comparing a series of ternary complex crystal structures highlighted the importance of an efficient E3-target interface for ternary complex stability. The developed assays outline a strategy for the rational optimization of PROTACs using a series of live cell assays monitoring key steps of the early PROTAC induced degradation pathway. Significance The multistep PROTAC induced degradation process of a POI poses a significant challenge for the rational design of these bifunctional small molecules as critical steps that limit PROTAC efficacy cannot be easily assayed at required throughput. In addition, the cellular location of the POI may pose additional challenges as some cellular compartments, such as the nucleus, may not be easily reached by PROTAC molecules and the targeted E3 ligases may not be present in this cellular compartment. We propose therefore a comprehensive assay panel for PROTACs evaluation in cellular environments using a sensor system that allows continuous monitoring of the protein levels of the endogenous POI. We developed a cell line expressing WDR5 from its endogenous locus in fusion with a small sequence tag (HiBIT) that can be reconstituted to functional NanoLuciferase (NLuc). This system allowed continuous monitoring of endogenous WDR5 levels in cells and together with HaloTag system also the continuous monitoring of ternary complex (E3, WDR5 and PROTAC) formation. As this assay can be run at high throughput, we used this versatile system monitoring three diverse chemical series of WDR5 PROTACs that markedly differ in their degradation properties. Monitoring cell penetration, binary complex formation (PROTAC-WDR5 and PROTAC-VHL) as well as ternary complex formation we found that PROTAC efficiency highly correlated with synergy of ternary complex formation in cells. This study represents a first data set on diverse PROTACs studying this property in cellulo and it outlines a strategy for the rational optimization of PROTACs. It also provided kinetic data on ternary complex assembly and dissociation that may serve as a benchmark for future studies utilizing also kinetic properties for PROTAC development. Comparative structural studies revealed larger PROTAC mediated interaction surfaces for PROTACs that efficiently formed ternary complexes highlighting the utility of structure based optimization of PROTAC induced ternary complexes in the development process.

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Author:Martin P. SchwalmORCiD, Andreas KrämerORCiDGND, Anja DölleORCiDGND, Janik WeckesserORCiD, Xufen YuORCiD, Jian Jin, Krishna SaxenaORCiDGND, Stefan KnappORCiD
Parent Title (English):bioRxiv
Document Type:Preprint
Year of Completion:2023
Year of first Publication:2023
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2023/08/06
Page Number:26
Institutes:Fachübergreifende Einrichtungen / Buchmann Institut für Molekulare Lebenswissenschaften (BMLS)
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie / 570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie
6 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften / 61 Medizin und Gesundheit / 610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - CC BY-NC-ND - Namensnennung - Nicht kommerziell - Keine Bearbeitungen 4.0 International