Small Molecules Can Selectively Inhibit Ephrin Binding to the EphA4 and EphA2 Receptors

Burnham Institute for Medical Research, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.
Journal of Biological Chemistry (Impact Factor: 4.6). 09/2008; 283(43):29461-72. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M804103200
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The erythropoietin-producing hepatocellular (Eph) family of receptor tyrosine kinases regulates a multitude of physiological and pathological processes. Despite the numerous possible research and therapeutic applications of agents capable of modulating Eph receptor function, no small molecule inhibitors targeting the extracellular domain of these receptors have been identified. We have performed a high throughput screen to search for small molecules that inhibit ligand binding to the extracellular domain of the EphA4 receptor. This yielded a 2,5-dimethylpyrrolyl benzoic acid derivative able to inhibit the interaction of EphA4 with a peptide ligand as well as the natural ephrin ligands. Evaluation of a series of analogs identified an isomer with similar inhibitory properties and other less potent compounds. The two isomeric compounds act as competitive inhibitors, suggesting that they target the high affinity ligand-binding pocket of EphA4 and inhibit ephrin-A5 binding to EphA4 with K(i) values of 7 and 9 mum in enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Interestingly, despite the ability of each ephrin ligand to promiscuously bind many Eph receptors, the two compounds selectively target EphA4 and the closely related EphA2 receptor. The compounds also inhibit ephrin-induced phosphorylation of EphA4 and EphA2 in cells, without affecting cell viability or the phosphorylation of other receptor tyrosine kinases. Furthermore, the compounds inhibit EphA4-mediated growth cone collapse in retinal explants and EphA2-dependent retraction of the cell periphery in prostate cancer cells. These data demonstrate that the Eph receptor-ephrin interface can be targeted by inhibitory small molecules and suggest that the two compounds identified will be useful to discriminate the activities of EphA4 and EphA2 from those of other co-expressed Eph receptors that are activated by the same ephrin ligands. Furthermore, the newly identified inhibitors represent possible leads for the development of therapies to treat pathologies in which EphA4 and EphA2 are involved, including nerve injuries and cancer.

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