The resurgence of interest in caspases (Csp) as therapeutic targets for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases prompted us to examine the suitability of published nonpeptidic Csp-3 and Csp-6 inhibitors for our medicinal chemistry programs. To support this effort, fluorescence-based Csp-2, Csp-3, and Csp-6 enzymatic assays were optimized for robustness against apparent enzyme inhibition caused by redox-cycling or aggregating compounds. The data obtained under these improved conditions challenge the validity of previously published data on Csp-3 and Csp-6 inhibitors for all but one series, namely, the isatins. Furthermore, in this series, it was observed that the nature of the rhodamine-labeled substrate, typically used to measure caspase activity, interfered with the pharmacological sensitivity of the Csp-2 assay. As a result, a liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry-based assay that eliminates label-dependent assay interference was developed for Csp-2 and Csp-3. In these label-free assays, the activity values of the Csp-2 and Csp-3 reference inhibitors were in agreement with those obtained with the fluorogenic substrates. However, isatin 10a was 50-fold less potent in the label-free Csp-2 assay compared with the rhodamine-based fluorescence format, thus proving the need for an orthogonal readout to validate inhibitors in this class of targets highly susceptible to artifactual inhibition.
Keywords: LC/MS/MS assay; artifactual inhibition; caspases; nonpeptidic inhibitors.