Structure-based discovery of an organic compound that binds Bcl-2 protein and induces apoptosis of tumor cellsJia-Lun Wang, Dongxiang Liu, Zhi-Jia Zhang, Simei Shan, Xiaobing Han, Srinivasa M. Srinivasula, Carlo M. Croce, Emad S. Alnemri, Ziwei Huang
Bcl-2 and related proteins are key regulators of apoptosis or programmed cell death implicated in human disease including cancer. We recently showed that cell-permeable Bcl-2 binding peptides could induce apoptosis of human myeloid leukemia in vitro and suppress its growth in severe combined immunodeficient mice. Here we report the discovery of HA14-1, a small molecule (molecular weight = 409) and nonpeptidic ligand of a Bcl-2 surface pocket, by using a computer screening strategy based on the predicted structure of Bcl-2 protein. In vitro binding studies demonstrated the interaction of HA14-1 with this Bcl-2 surface pocket that is essential for Bcl-2 biological function. HA14-1 effectively induced apoptosis of human acute myeloid leukemia (HL-60) cells overexpressing Bcl-2 protein that was associated with the decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential and activation of caspase-9 followed by caspase-3. Cytokine response modifier A, a potent inhibitor of Fas-mediated apoptosis, did not block apoptosis induced by HA14-1. Whereas HA14-1 strongly induced the death of NIH 3T3 (Apaf-1 +/+ ) cells, it had little apoptotic effect on Apaf-1-deficient (Apaf-1 −/− ) mouse embryonic fibroblast cells. These data are consistent with a mechanism by which HA14-1 induces the activation of Apaf-1 and caspases, possibly by binding to Bcl-2 protein and inhibiting its function. The discovery of this cell-permeable molecule provides a chemical probe to study Bcl-2-regulated apoptotic pathways in vivo and could lead to the development of new therapeutic agents.