Mutant KRAS is a major driver of oncogenesis in a multitude of cancers but remains a challenging target for classical small molecule drugs, motivating the exploration of alternative approaches. Here, we show that aggregation-prone regions (APRs) in the primary sequence of the oncoprotein constitute intrinsic vulnerabilities that can be exploited to misfold KRAS into protein aggregates. Conveniently, this propensity that is present in wild-type KRAS is increased in the common oncogenic mutations at positions 12 and 13. We show that synthetic peptides (Pept-ins™) derived from two distinct KRAS APRs could induce the misfolding and subsequent loss of function of oncogenic KRAS, both of recombinantly produced protein in solution, during cell-free translation and in cancer cells. The Pept-ins exerted antiproliferative activity against a range of mutant KRAS cell lines and abrogated tumor growth in a syngeneic lung adenocarcinoma mouse model driven by mutant KRAS G12V. These findings provide proof-of-concept that the intrinsic misfolding propensity of the KRAS oncoprotein can be exploited to cause its functional inactivation.
Keywords: KRAS; oncogene; peptide; protein aggregation; protein folding.