Targeting oncoproteins with a positive selection assay for protein degraders

Sci Adv. 2021 Feb 5;7(6):eabd6263. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abd6263. Print 2021 Feb.


Most intracellular proteins lack hydrophobic pockets suitable for altering their function with drug-like small molecules. Recent studies indicate that some undruggable proteins can be targeted by compounds that can degrade them. For example, thalidomide-like drugs (IMiDs) degrade the critical multiple myeloma transcription factors IKZF1 and IKZF3 by recruiting them to the cereblon E3 ubiquitin ligase. Current loss of signal ("down") assays for identifying degraders often exhibit poor signal-to-noise ratios, narrow dynamic ranges, and false positives from compounds that nonspecifically suppress transcription or translation. Here, we describe a gain of signal ("up") assay for degraders. In arrayed chemical screens, we identified novel IMiD-like IKZF1 degraders and Spautin-1, which, unlike the IMiDs, degrades IKZF1 in a cereblon-independent manner. In a pooled CRISPR-Cas9-based screen, we found that CDK2 regulates the abundance of the ASCL1 oncogenic transcription factor. This methodology should facilitate the identification of drugs that directly or indirectly degrade undruggable proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Benzylamines
  • CRISPR-Cas Systems
  • Humans
  • Ikaros Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Oncogene Proteins* / chemistry
  • Oncogene Proteins* / metabolism
  • Proteolysis* / drug effects
  • Quinazolines
  • Thalidomide / analysis
  • Thalidomide / pharmacology
  • Transcription Factors


  • ASCL1 protein, human
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Benzylamines
  • IKZF1 protein, human
  • Oncogene Proteins
  • Quinazolines
  • Transcription Factors
  • spautin-1
  • Ikaros Transcription Factor
  • Thalidomide