The p38 MAPK cascade is a key signaling pathway linked to a multitude of physiological functions and of central importance in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Although studied extensively, little is known about how conformation-specific inhibitors alter signaling outcomes. Here, we have explored the highly dynamic back pocket of p38 MAPK with allosteric urea fragments. However, screening against known off-targets showed that these fragments maintained the selectivity issues of their parent compound BIRB-796, while combination with the hinge-binding motif of VPC-00628 greatly enhanced inhibitor selectivity. Further efforts focused therefore on the exploration of the αC-out pocket of p38 MAPK, yielding compound 137 as a highly selective type-II inhibitor. Even though 137 is structurally related to a recent p38 type-II chemical probe, SR-318, the data presented here provide valuable insights into back-pocket interactions that are not addressed in SR-318 and it provides an alternative chemical tool with good cellular activity targeting also the p38 back pocket.
Keywords: Allosteric BIRB fragments; Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF); Folded P-loop; NanoBRET(TM) assay; Selective type-II p38 MAPK inhibitor.
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