Site-selective modifications of target proteins using specifically designed small molecules is a powerful tool that has been extensively utilized for drug discovery. Small molecules can modify proteins either covalently or non-covalently depending on their structures and intrinsic chemical reactivity. Covalent chemical modification presents a more stable and often irreversible interaction with target proteins; unlike non-covalent binders, which form weak, reversible interactions with protein. Therefore, covalent modifiers represent an effective class of therapeutics due to their stability and irreversibility once bound to target proteins of interest. I hypothesized that tuning biocompatible, high-valent gold(III) complexes toward nucleophile-induced reductive elimination will lead to covalent protein modification by arylation. While most proteins are expressed amongst all cell types; protein overexpression is a common phenomenon in several cancer types due to their rapid proliferative phenotype and mutations compared to healthy non-cancerous cells. The nucleophilic amino acid side chains in proteins can be used as reactive handles for covalent modifications. Amongst the naturally occurring amino acids; cysteine, the most intrinsically nucleophilic, contains a highly reactive thiol functional group. This innate nucleophilicity provides a framework for covalent modification with electrophiles, which includes but is not limited to electron-deficient metal centers (e.g., Au and Pd).
Although there are previous reports successfully identifying transition metals as suitable chemical modifiers, specifically, tuning gold(III) complexes for selective binding offers a unique strategy for chemotherapeutics. Gold(III) metal centers are innately acidic and react with softer bases such as phosphorous and sulfur unlike the traditionally used late transition metals. Secondly, gold(III) complexes are known to target proteins over DNA, unlike other common transition metal complexes such as platinum and ruthenium. Combining the innate ability of gold(III) complexes to interact with proteins and the high affinity for cysteine thiols, rationale design of highly selective protein modifiers and efficient chemotherapeutics is possible.
My work focused on tuning the reactivity of cyclometalated gold(III) complexes for cysteine arylation and ligand-directed bioconjugation using Metal-mediated Ligand Affinity Chemistry (MLAC) have been elucidated to modify biomolecules including antibodies and undruggable protein targets such as KRAS. While developing cyclometalated gold(III) complexes discussed herein, a unique class chiral gold(III) complexes bearing diamine or phosphine ligands led to other applications including improved anticancer activity in comparison to first generation of gold(III) complexes. A key highlight is the development of stable organometallic gold(III) macrocycles with potent in vitro and in vivo anticancer action in aggressive cancer types including triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).
KEYWORDS: Site-selective protein modification, gold complexes, covalent binders, cysteine arylation, anticancer