The ubiquitin proteasome pathway comprises a coordinated, dynamic cellular system critical to cellular metabolism, signaling and proliferation. The expanding clinical utility of the peptide boronate, bortezomib, in the treatment of patients with multiple myeloma and other hematologic malignancies has established the human 26S proteasome as a validated target in cancer. Still, only one FDA-approved proteasome inhibitor presently exists. Restricted activity against one enzymatic function of the proteasome and dose-limiting toxicities associated with bortezomib warrant further discovery efforts aimed at the identification of structurally and functionally distinct protein degradation inhibitors (PDIs). Here, we report a novel family of natural product proteasome inhibitors discovered by high-throughput, high-content screening at the National Cancer Institute Initiative for Chemical Genetics. A primary screen of 14,000 small molecules was performed in 384-well plate format using a cell line stably transfected with a destabilized fluorescent protein chimera. Assay positives were retested in the primary screen in dose-response format. Thiostrepton was selected for further characterization due to its unique macrocyclic chemical structure, the recent publication of its total synthesis, reports of anticancer properties and the lack of prior annotation as a PDI. First, thiostrepton was linked to previously characterized molecules acting on the protein degradation pathways by transcriptional small molecule connectivity mapping (CMAP). Subsequent cell-state analyses confirmed strong induction of functional and annotated gene sets associated with misfolded protein stress and proteasome inhibition. Mechanism of action was confirmed by biochemical profiling of human 20S proteasome active site inhibition and specificity using homogeneous assays and selective substrates for each of three catalytic active sites. Importantly, inhibitory activity of thiostrepton differs from bortezomib by blocking both the chymotryptic-like and PGPH active sites with sub-micromolar potencies. Dose-dependent inhibition of multiple myeloma cell growth was observed, with a concomitant increase in polyubiquitinated protein stress and induction of apoptosis. Inhibition of conferred proliferation by bone marrow stroma was confirmed using a novel miniaturized high-content assay modeling the bone marrow stroma-multiple myeloma microenvironment. Structurally related compounds to thiostrepton, nosiheptide and siomycin, were confirmed also as proteasome inhibitors as above. Our discovery of this class of natural products as proteasome inhibitors and a recent report of siomycin inhibition of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) signaling begged the question whether established proteasome inhibitors would inhibit Shh signaling in human cancer. This hypothesis was confirmed in a set of reporter-gene assays. In sum, these studies identify thiopeptide macrocycles as a class of naturally-occurring proteasome inhibitors poised for clinical development in hematologic malignancies, establish novel high-throughput assays for modeling MM-stroma microenvironment interactions and pave the way for the development of proteasome inhibitors in disease states where Shh signaling is central to pathogenesis.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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