Identification of a novel extracellular inhibitor of FGF2/FGFR signaling axis by combined Virtual Screening and NMR Spectroscopy approach

Pagano, K.; Listro, R.;  Linciano, P.; Rossi, D.; Longhi, E.; Taraboletti, G.; Molinari, H.; Collina, S.; Ragona, L.

(2023) Bioorganic Chemistry, 106529

DOI: 10.1016/j.bioorg.2023.106529

ABSTRACT: The aberrant activation of the fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2)/fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) signalling pathway drives severe pathologies, including cancer development and angiogenesis-driven pathologies. The perturbation of the FGF2/FGFR axis via extracellular allosteric small inhibitors is a promising strategy for developing FGFR inhibitors with improved safety and efficacy for cancer treatment. We have previously investigated the role of new extracellular inhibitors, such as rosmarinic acid (RA), which binds the FGFR-D2 domain and directly competes with FGF2 for the same binding site, enabling the disruption of the functional FGF2/FGFR interaction. To select ligands for the previously identified FGF2/FGFR RA binding site, NMR data-driven virtual screening has been performed on an in-house library of non-commercial small molecules and metabolites. A novel drug-like compound, a resorcinol derivative named RBA4 has been identified. NMR interaction studies demonstrate that RBA4 binds the FGF2/FGFR complex, in agreement with docking prediction. Residue-level NMR perturbations analysis highlights that the mode of action of RBA4 is similar to RA in terms of its ability to target the FGF2/FGFR-D2 complex, inducing perturbations on both proteins and triggering complex dissociation. Biological assays proved that RBA4 inhibited FGF2 proliferative activity at a level comparable to the previously reported natural product, RA. Identification of RBA4 chemical groups involved in direct interactions represents a starting point for further optimization of drug-like extracellular inhibitors with improved activity.