Small Molecule Based Approaches to Inhibit Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor (MIF) Activities and Elucidate its Role in Health and Disease

Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is a major mediator in innate immunity and inflammation and a potential therapeutic target in multiple inflammatory, infectious and autoimmune diseases including cancer. Current therapeutic strategies for targeting MIF focus on modulating its biological activities using anti-MIF neutralizing antibodies or developing inhibitors of its tautomerase activity. Although the identity of its natural substrate remains unknown, several small molecule inhibitors have been reported to be effective inhibitors of MIF tautomerase activity in vitro. All these inhibitors were identified by rational design and structure-activity studies based on the structure of the catalytic site and/or non physiologic substrates of MIF. The lack of suitable high-throughput screening (HTS) assays has hindered the screening of chemical libraries and discovery of more diverse inhibitors. Motivated by the goal of discovering diverse classes of MIF inhibitors that modulate MIF activity specific targeting of its biochemical, conformation and quaternary structure properties, both activity based endpoint and kinetic HTS assays were developed, optimized and performed on diverse set of libraries. Using the endpoint assay, out of 15440 compounds screened, twelve novel inhibitors of MIF's catalytic activity (∼ 0.1% hit rate) with IC50s in the range of 1.5 to 15.5 µM were identified and validated. The interaction site and mechanism of action of all these inhibitors were defined using structure activity studies and a battery of biochemical and biophysical methods, including mass spectrometry, light scattering, and NMR. The effect on MIF biological activities was also examined on MIF-mediated glucocorticoid overriding and MIF-induced Akt phosphorylation. Using the kinetic-based activity assay, we screened 80,000 small molecules and identified and validated thirteen novel inhibitors of MIF catalytic activity with inhibition constant (Ki,app) values ranging from 0.5 to 13 µM. According to the structure and potency some of these molecules could be of great therapeutic potential. The MIF inhibitors emerging from these studies could be divided into four classes: 1) molecules that covalently modify the catalytic site at the N-terminal proline residue, Pro1 which could be classified into 5 groups; 2) a novel class of catalytic site inhibitors, 3) a class of trimer destabilizing inhibitors. These findings demonstrate the potential of HTS assays as attractive means to identify novel classes of MIF inhibitors as lead drug candidates and/or chemical tools for elucidating the biochemical and structural bases underlying the multifunctionality of MIF's in health and disease. Having these molecules in hand, will advance our understanding of protein-protein interactions mechanism for MIF oligomerization and may help to elucidate the role of MIF enzymatic activity in health and disease.


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