Research ArticleType 2 Diabetes

Phenotypic assays identify azoramide as a small-molecule modulator of the unfolded protein response with antidiabetic activity

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Science Translational Medicine  17 Jun 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 292, pp. 292ra98
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaa9134

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Speed, specificity, and versatility

Selecting versatile targets is one way to speed therapeutic research and development (R&D). Here, Fu et al. design two high-throughput assays that test divergent endoplasmic reticulum (ER) functions. The authors then screen for small molecules that boost ER activity and pinpoint a candidate compound that exhibits antidiabetic activity in mouse models of obesity.

Disruption in ER function and chronic ER stress are associated with pathologies that range from diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases to cancer and inflammation. In fact, drugs that target the ER have shown therapeutic promise in preclinical models of obesity and other pathologies but limitations of pharmacological properties have blocked effective clinical translation. The authors developed two screening systems, one that specifically measures free chaperone content and another that assesses ER protein-folding capacity. With their assay systems, they identified and characterized a small molecule, azoramide, that improved ER protein folding and elevated ER chaperone capacity, which together protected cells against ER stress. Azoramide displayed anti-diabetic efficacy in two mouse models of obesity by improving insulin sensitivity and pancreatic beta cell function. Although these screening platforms are speedy and specific, they can’t transform therapeutic R&D into a process swift enough to ready you for swimsuit season. But azoramide does offer proof-of-principle for the hypothesis that ER modulators may be identified with phenotypic screens and serve as drug candidates for diseases that display aberrant ER function.

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