Nucleocytoplasmic transport of macromolecules is a fundamental process of eukaryotic cells. Translocation of proteins and many RNAs between the nucleus and cytoplasm is carried out by shuttling receptors of the β-karyopherin family, also called importins and exportins. Leptomycin B, a small molecule inhibitor of the exportin CRM1, has proved to be an invaluable tool for cell biologists, but up to now no small molecule inhibitors of nuclear import have been described. We devised a microtiter plate based permeabilized cell screen for small molecule inhibitors of the importin α/β pathway. By analyzing peptidomimetic libraries, we identified β-turn and α-helix peptidomimetic compounds that selectively inhibit nuclear import by importin α/β but not by transportin. Structure-activity relationship analysis showed that large aromatic residues and/or a histidine side chain are required for effective import inhibition by these compounds. Our validated inhibitors can be useful for in vitro studies of nuclear import, and can also provide a framework for synthesis of higher potency nuclear import inhibitors.
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