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Published Work

Research articles

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Targeting of the FOXM1 Oncoprotein by E3 Ligase-Assisted Degradation

November 2021

The transcription factor FOXM1 that regulates multiple proliferation-related genes through selective protein-DNA and protein–protein interactions is now considered an attractive oncotarget. There are several small-molecule inhibitors that indirectly suppress the expression of FOXM1 or block its DNA binding domain (FOXM1-DBD). However, insufficient specificity or/and efficacy are two potential drawbacks. Here, we employed in silico modelling of FOXM1-DBD with inhibitors to enable the design of an effective CRBN-recruiting molecule that induced significant FOXM1 protein degradation and exerted promising in vivo antitumor activity against TNBC xenograft models. This study is the first of its kind showcasing the use of an approach described in the literature as protein-targeting chimeras to degrade the elusive FOXM1, providing an alternative strategy to counter the pathological effects resulting from the increased transcriptional activity of FOXM1 observed in cancer cells.

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FOXM1 Inhibitors as Potential Diagnostic Agents: First Generation of a PET Probe Targeting FOXM1 To Detect Triple-Negative Breast Cancer in vitro and in vivo

August 2021

The FOXM1 protein controls the expression of essential genes related to cancer cell cycle progression, metastasis, and chemoresistance. We hypothesize that FOXM1 inhibitors could represent a novel approach to developing 18F-based radiotracers for Positron Emission Tomography (PET). Therefore, in this report, we describe the first attempt to use 18F-labeled FOXM1 inhibitors to detect triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Briefly, we replaced the original amide group in the parent drug FDI-6 for a ketone group in the novel AF-FDI molecule, to carry out an aromatic nucleophilic (18F)-fluorination. AF-FDI dissociated the FOXM1-DNA complex, decreased FOXM1 levels, and inhibited cell proliferation in a TNBC cell line (MDA-MB-231). [18F]AF-FDI was internalized in MDA-MB-231 cells. Cell uptake inhibition experiments showed that AF-FDI and FDI-6 significantly decreased the maximum uptake of [18F]AF-FDI, suggesting specificity towards FOXM1. [18F]AF-FDI reached a tumor uptake of SUV=0.31 in MDA-MB-231 tumor-bearing mice and was metabolically stable 60 min post-injection. These results provide preliminary evidence supporting the potential role of FOXM1 to develop PET radiotracers.


SP1-independent inhibition of FOXM1 by modified thiazolidinediones

November 2020

This research article describes an approach to modify the thiazolidinedione scaffold to produce test drugs capable of binding to, and inhibit, the in vitro transcriptional activity of the oncogenic protein FOXM1. This approach allowed us to obtain FOXM1 inhibitors that bind directly to the FOXM1-DNA binding domain without targeting the expression levels of Sp1, an upstream transcription factor protein known to activate the expression of FOXM1. Briefly, we modified the chemical structure of the thiazolidinedione scaffold present in anti-diabetic medications such as pioglitazone, rosiglitazone, and the former anti-diabetic drug troglitazone, because these drugs have been reported to exert inhibition of FOXM1 but hit other targets as well. After the chemical synthesis of 11 derivatives possessing a modified thiazolidinedione moiety, we screened all test compounds using in vitro protocols to measure their ability to (a) dissociate a FOXM1-DNA complex (EMSA assay); (b) decrease the expression of FOXM1 in triple negative-breast cancer cells (WB assay); (c) downregulate the expression of FOXM1 downstream targets (luciferase reporter assays and qPCR), and inhibit the formation of colonies of MDA-MB-231 cancer cells (colony formation assay). We also identified a potential binding mode associated with these compounds in which compound TFI-10, one of the most active molecules, exerts binding interactions with Arg289, Trp308, and His287. Unlike the parent drug, troglitazone, compound TFI-10 does not target the in vitro expression of Sp1, suggesting that it is possible to design FOXM1 inhibitors with a better selectivity profile.


A structure-activity relationship study of Forkhead Domain Inhibitors (FDI):

The importance of halogen binding interactions

December 2019

The Forkhead boX M1 (FOXM1) protein is an essential transcription factor required for the normal activation of human cell cycle. However, increasing evidence supports a correlation between FOXM1 overexpression and the onset of several types of cancer. Based on a previously reported molecular modeling and molecular dynamics simulations (MD) study, we hypothesized the role of an essential halogen-bonding interaction between the 4-fluorophenyl group in the forkhead domain inhibitor-6 (FDI-6) and an Arg297 residue inside the FOXM1-DNA binding domain (DBD). To prove the importance of this binding interaction, we synthesized and screened ten FDI-6 derivatives possessing different groups at the 4-fluorophenyl position of the lead molecule. Briefly, we found that derivatives possessing a 4-chlorophenyl, 4-bromophenyl, or a 4-iodophenyl group, were equipotent to the original 4-fluorophenyl moiety present in FDI-6, whereas derivatives without this 4-halogen moiety were inactive. We also observed that positional isomers in which the halogen was relocated to positions 2- or 3- on the phenyl group were significantly less active. These results provide evidence to support the essential role of a 4-halophenyl bonding interaction, with the Arg297 residue in the FOXM1-DBD, to exert inhibition of transcriptional activity.

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Untying the knot of transcription factor druggability:

Molecular modeling study of FOXM1 inhibitors

October 2018

The FOXM1 protein is a relevant transcription factor involved in cancer cell proliferation. The direct or indirect inhibition of this protein's transcriptional activity by small molecule drugs correlates well with a potentially significant anti-cancer profile, making this macromolecule a promising drug target. There are a few drug molecules reported to interact with (and inhibit) the FOXM1 DNA binding domain (FOXM1-BD), causing downregulation of protein expression and cancer cell proliferation inhibition. Among these drug molecules are the proteasome inhibitor thiostrepton, the former antidiabetic drug troglitazone, and the new FDI-6 molecule. Despite their structural differences, these drugs exert a similar inhibitory profile, and this observation prompted us to study a possible similar mechanism of action. Using a series of molecular dynamics simulations and docking protocols, we identified essential binding interactions exerted by all three classes of drugs, among which, a π–sulfur interaction (between a His287 and a sulfur-containing heterocycle) was the most important. In this report, we describe the preliminary evidence suggesting the presence of a drug-binding pocket within FOXM1 DNA binding domain, in which inhibitors fit to dissociate the protein-DNA complex. This finding suggests a common mechanism of action and a basic framework to design new FOXM1 inhibitors.

Publications : Publications
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