Inhibitors of cullin-RING E3 ubiquitin ligase 4 with antitumor potential

Kenneth Wu, Khoi Q. Huynh, Iris Lu, Moses Moustakim, Haibin Miao, Clinton Yu, Matthew J. Haeusgen, Benjamin D. Hopkins, Lan Huang, Ning Zheng, Roberto Sanchez, Robert J. DeVita, Zhen Qiang Pan

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4 Scopus citations


Cullin-RING (really intersting new gene) E3 ubiquitin ligases (CRLs) are the largest E3 family and direct numerous protein substrates for proteasomal degradation, thereby impacting a myriad of physiological and pathological processes including cancer. To date, there are no reported small-molecule inhibitors of the catalytic activity of CRLs. Here, we describe high-throughput screening and medicinal chemistry optimization efforts that led to the identification of two compounds, 33-11 and KH-4-43, which inhibit E3 CRL4 and exhibit antitumor potential. These compounds bind to CRL4’s core catalytic complex, inhibit CRL4-mediated ubiquitination, and cause stabilization of CRL4’s substrate CDT1 in cells. Treatment with 33-11 or KH-4-43 in a panel of 36 tumor cell lines revealed cytotoxicity. The antitumor activity was validated by the ability of the compounds to suppress the growth of human tumor xenografts in mice. Mechanistically, the compounds’ cytotoxicity was linked to aberrant accumulation of CDT1 that is known to trigger apoptosis. Moreover, a subset of tumor cells was found to express cullin4 proteins at levels as much as 70-fold lower than those in other tumor lines. The low-cullin4–expressing tumor cells appeared to exhibit increased sensitivity to 33-11/KH-4-43, raising a provocative hypothesis for the role of low E3 abundance as a cancer vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2007328118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
StatePublished - 23 Feb 2021


  • Cullin4
  • E3 CRL4
  • Protein degradation
  • Small-molecule inhibitors
  • Tumor inhibition


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