In silico inspired design and synthesis of a novel tubulin-binding anti-cancer drug: folate conjugated noscapine (Targetin)

J Comput Aided Mol Des. 2012 Feb;26(2):233-47. doi: 10.1007/s10822-011-9508-z. Epub 2011 Dec 15.


Our screen for tubulin-binding small molecules that do not depolymerize bulk cellular microtubules, but based upon structural features of well known microtubule-depolymerizing colchicine and podophyllotoxin, revealed tubulin binding anti-cancer property of noscapine (Ye et al. in Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 95:2280-2286, 1998). Guided by molecular modelling calculations and structure-activity relationships we conjugated at C9 of noscapine, a folate group-a ligand for cellular folate receptor alpha (FRα). FRα is over-expressed on some solid tumours such as ovarian epithelial cancers. Molecular docking experiments predicted that a folate conjugated noscapine (Targetin) accommodated well inside the binding cavity (docking score -11.295 kcal/mol) at the interface between α- and β-tubulin. The bulky folate moiety of Targetin is extended toward lumen of microtubules. The binding free energy (ΔG (bind)) computed based on molecular mechanics energy minimization was -221.01 kcal/mol that revealed favourable interaction of Targetin with the receptor. Chemical synthesis, tubulin-binding experiments, and anti-cancer activity in vitro corroborate fully well with the molecular modelling experiments. Targetin binds tubulin with a dissociation constant (K (d) value) of 149 ± 3.0 μM and decreases the transition frequencies between growth and shortening phases of microtubule assembly dynamics at concentrations that do not alter the total polymer mass. Cancer cells in general were more sensitive to Targetin compared with the founding compound noscapine (IC(50) in the range of 15-40 μM). Quite strikingly, ovarian cancer cells (SKOV3 and A2780), known to overexpress FRα, were much more sensitive to targetin (IC(50) in the range of 0.3-1.5 μM).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / chemical synthesis
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / chemistry*
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Computer Simulation
  • Folate Receptor 1 / metabolism
  • Folic Acid / chemistry*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Microtubules / chemistry
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Models, Molecular
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Noscapine / chemical synthesis
  • Noscapine / chemistry*
  • Noscapine / pharmacology*
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • Protein Conformation
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tubulin / chemistry
  • Tubulin / drug effects
  • Tubulin / metabolism*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Folate Receptor 1
  • Ligands
  • Tubulin
  • Noscapine
  • Folic Acid