Yuquan Tong, Peiyuan Zhang, Xueyi Yang, Xiaohui Liu, Jie Zhang, Magda Grudniewska, Ikrak Jung, Daniel Abegg, Jun Liu, Jessica L. Childs-Disney, Quentin M. R. Gibaut, Hafeez S. Haniff, Alexander Adibekian, M. Maral Mouradian, Matthew D. Disney

Decreasing the intrinsically disordered protein α-synuclein levels by targeting its structured mRNA with a ribonuclease-targeting chimera

  • Multidisciplinary

α-Synuclein is an important drug target for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD), but it is an intrinsically disordered protein lacking typical small-molecule binding pockets. In contrast, the encoding SNCA mRNA has regions of ordered structure in its 5′ untranslated region (UTR). Here, we present an integrated approach to identify small molecules that bind this structured region and inhibit α-synuclein translation. A drug-like, RNA-focused compound collection was studied for binding to the 5′ UTR of SNCA mRNA, affording Synucleozid-2.0, a drug-like small molecule that decreases α-synuclein levels by inhibiting ribosomes from assembling onto SNCA mRNA. This RNA-binding small molecule was converted into a ribonuclease-targeting chimera (RiboTAC) to degrade cellular SNCA mRNA. RNA-seq and proteomics studies demonstrated that the RiboTAC (Syn-RiboTAC) selectively degraded SNCA mRNA to reduce its protein levels, affording a fivefold enhancement of cytoprotective effects as compared to Synucleozid-2.0. As observed in many diseases, transcriptome-wide changes in RNA expression are observed in PD. Syn-RiboTAC also rescued the expression of ~50% of genes that were abnormally expressed in dopaminergic neurons differentiated from PD patient–derived iPSCs. These studies demonstrate that the druggability of the proteome can be expanded greatly by targeting the encoding mRNAs with both small molecule binders and RiboTAC degraders.

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