Battling metastasis through inhibition of cell motility is considered a promising approach to support cancer therapies. In this context, Ena/VASP-depending signaling pathways, in particular interactions with their EVH1 domains, are promising targets for pharmaceutical intervention. However, protein-protein interactions involving proline-rich segments are notoriously difficult to address by small molecules. Hence, structure-based design efforts in combination with the chemical synthesis of additional molecular entities are required. Building on a previously developed nonpeptidic micromolar inhibitor, we determined 22 crystal structures of ENAH EVH1 in complex with inhibitors and rationally extended our library of conformationally defined proline-derived modules (ProMs) to succeed in developing a nanomolar inhibitor ([Formula: see text] Da). In contrast to the previous inhibitor, the optimized compounds reduced extravasation of invasive breast cancer cells in a zebrafish model. This study represents an example of successful, structure-guided development of low molecular weight inhibitors specifically and selectively addressing a proline-rich sequence-recognizing domain that is characterized by a shallow epitope lacking defined binding pockets. The evolved high-affinity inhibitor may now serve as a tool in validating the basic therapeutic concept, i.e., the suppression of cancer metastasis by inhibiting a crucial protein-protein interaction involved in actin filament processing and cell migration.
Keywords: metastasis; peptide mimetics; proline-rich motif; protein–protein interactions; small molecules.
Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.