Pharmacological Characterization and Radiolabeling of VUF15485, a High-Affinity Small-Molecule Agonist for the Atypical Chemokine Receptor ACKR3

Aurelien M. Zarca, Ilze Adlere, Cristina P. Viciano, Marta Arimont-Segura, Max Meyrath, Icaro A. Simon, Jan Paul Bebelman, Dennis Laan, Hans G.J. Custers, Elwin Janssen, Kobus L. Versteegh, Maurice C.M.L. Buzink, Desislava N. Nesheva, Reggie Bosma, Iwan J.P. de Esch, Henry F. Vischer, Maikel Wijtmans, Martyna Szpakowska, Andy Chevigné, Carsten HoffmannChris de Graaf, Barbara A. Zarzycka, Albert D. Windhorst, Martine J. Smit, Rob Leurs

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Atypical chemokine receptor 3 (ACKR3), formerly referred to as CXCR7, is considered to be an interesting drug target. In this study, we report on the synthesis, pharmacological characterization and radiolabeling of VUF15485, a new ACKR3 small-molecule agonist, that will serve as an important new tool to study this β-arrestin-biased chemokine receptor. VUF15485 binds with nanomolar affinity (pIC50 = 8.3) to human ACKR3, as measured in [125I]CXCL12 competition binding experiments. Moreover, in a bioluminescence resonance energy transfer-based β-arrestin2 recruitment assay VUF15485 acts as a potent ACKR3 agonist (pEC50 = 7.6) and shows a similar extent of receptor activation compared with CXCL12 when using a newly developed, fluorescence resonance energy transfer-based ACKR3 conformational sensor. Moreover, the ACKR3 agonist VUF15485, tested against a (atypical) chemokine receptor panel (agonist and antagonist mode), proves to be selective for ACKR3. VUF15485 labeled with tritium at one of its methoxy groups ([3H]VUF15485), binds ACKR3 saturably and with high affinity (Kd = 8.2 nM). Additionally, [3H]VUF15485 shows rapid binding kinetics and consequently a short residence time (<2 minutes) for binding to ACKR3. The selectivity of [3H]VUF15485 for ACKR3, was confirmed by binding studies, whereupon CXCR3, CXCR4, and ACKR3 small-molecule ligands were competed for binding against the radiolabeled agonist. Interestingly, the chemokine ligands CXCL11 and CXCL12 are not able to displace the binding of [3H]VUF15485 to ACKR3. The radiolabeled VUF15485 was subsequently used to evaluate its binding pocket. Site-directed mutagenesis and docking studies using a recently solved cryo-EM structure propose that VUF15485 binds in the major and the minor binding pocket of ACKR3. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: The atypical chemokine receptor atypical chemokine receptor 3 (ACKR3) is considered an interesting drug target in relation to cancer and multiple sclerosis. The study reports on new chemical biology tools for ACKR3, i.e., a new agonist that can also be radiolabeled and a new ACKR3 conformational sensor, that both can be used to directly study the interaction of ACKR3 ligands with the G protein-coupled receptor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-312
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Pharmacology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2024


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