In Vitro Ubiquitination Platform Identifies Methyl Ellipticiniums as Ubiquitin Ligase Inhibitors

SLAS Discov. 2021 Aug;26(7):870-884. doi: 10.1177/24725552211000675. Epub 2021 Apr 21.


The transfer of the small protein ubiquitin to a target protein is an intricately orchestrated process called ubiquitination that results in modulation of protein function or stability. Proper regulation of ubiquitination is essential, and dysregulation of this process is implicated in several human diseases. An example of a ubiquitination cascade that is a central signaling node in important disease-associated pathways is that of CBLB [a human homolog of a viral oncogene Casitas B-lineage lymphoma (CBL) from the Cas NS-1 murine retrovirus], a RING finger ubiquitin ligase (E3) whose substrates include a number of important cell-signaling kinases. These include kinases important in immune function that act in the T cell receptor and costimulatory pathways, the Tyro/Axl/MerTK (TAM) receptor family in natural killer (NK) cells, as well as growth factor receptor kinases like epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Loss of CBLB has been shown to increase innate and adaptive antitumor immunity. This suggests that small-molecule modulation of CBLB E3 activity could enhance antitumor immunity in patients. To explore the hypothesis that enzymatic inhibition of E3s may result in modulation of disease-related signaling pathways, we established a high-throughput screen of >70,000 chemical entities for inhibition of CBLB activity. Although CBLB was chosen as a proof-of-principle target for inhibitor discovery, we demonstrate that our assay is generalizable to monitoring the activity of other ubiquitin ligases. We further extended our observed in vitro inhibition with additional cell-based models of CBLB activity. From these studies, we demonstrate that a class of natural product-based alkaloids, known as methyl ellipticiniums (MEs), is capable of inhibiting ubiquitin ligases intracellularly.

Keywords: CBL; E3; high throughput; inhibitor; ubiquitin ligase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Discovery / methods*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques*
  • Methylation
  • Mice
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Small Molecule Libraries
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / chemistry*
  • Ubiquitination / drug effects


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Small Molecule Libraries
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases