Bifunctional ligand design for modulating mutant p53 aggregation in cancer†
Protein misfolding and aggregation contributes to the development of a wide range of diseases. In cancer, over 50% of diagnoses are attributed to p53 malfunction due to missense mutations, many of which result in protein misfolding and accelerated aggregation. p53 mutations also frequently result in alteration or loss of zinc at the DNA-binding site, which increases aggregation via nucleation with zinc-bound p53. Herein, we designed two novel bifunctional ligands, LI and LH, to modulate mutant p53 aggregation and restore zinc binding using a metallochaperone approach. Interestingly, only the incorporation of iodine function in LI resulted in modulation of mutant p53 aggregation, both in recombinant and cellular environments. Native mass spectrometry shows a protein–ligand interaction for LI, as opposed to LH, which is hypothesized to lead to the distinct difference in the p53 aggregation profile for the two ligands. Incorporation of a di-2-picolylamine binding unit into the ligand design provided efficient intracellular zinc uptake, resulting in metallochaperone capability for both LI and LH. The ability of LI to reduce mutant p53 aggregation results in increased restoration of p53 transcriptional function and mediates both caspase-dependent and -independent cell death pathways. We further demonstrate that LI exhibits minimal toxicity in non-cancerous organoids, and that it is well tolerated in mice. These results demonstrate that iodination of our ligand framework restores p53 function by interacting with and inhibiting mutant p53 aggregation and highlights LI as a suitable candidate for comprehensive in vivo anticancer preclinical evaluations.