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Bexarotene (Targretin®) is an FDA approved drug used to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), as well as off-label treatments for various cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. Previous research has indicated that bexarotene has a specific affinity for retinoid X receptors (RXR), which allows bexarotene to act as a ligand-activated-transcription factor and in return control cell differentiation and proliferation. Bexarotene targets RXR homodimerization to drive transcription of tumor suppressing genes; however, adverse reactions occur simultaneously when bound to other nuclear receptors. In this study, we used novel bexarotene analogs throughout 5 iterations synthesized in the laboratory of Dr. Wagner to test for their potency and ability to bind RXR. The aim of our study is to quantitatively measure RXR homodimerization driven by bexarotene analogs using a yeast two-hybrid system. Our results suggests there to be several compounds with higher protein activity than bexarotene, particularly in generations 3.0 and 5.0. This higher affinity for RXR homodimers may help scientists identify a compound that will minimize adverse effects and toxicity of bexarotene and serve as a better cancer treatment alternative.
Bexarotene is a Food and Drug administration (FDA)-approved therapeutic used in the treatment of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL). However, bexarotene therapy causes significant side effects like hyperlipidemia and hypothyroidism due to crossover activity with retinoic acid receptor (RAR), thyroid hormone receptor (TR), and liver X receptor (LXR) signaling, respectively. More recently bexarotene has shown promise to reverse neurodegeneration, improve cognition and decrease levels of amyloid- β in transgenic mice expressing familial Alzheimer’s disease (AD) mutations. Bexarotene is a high affinity ligand for the retinoid X receptor (RXR) that heterodimerizes with the liver- X- receptors (LXR) and with peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPARϒ) to control cholesterol efflux, inflammation, and transcriptionally upregulates the production of apolipoprotein (ApoE) in the brain. Enhanced ApoE expression may promote clearance of soluble Aβ peptides from the brain and reduce Aβ plaques, thus resolving both amyloid pathology and cognitive deficits. The present study assessed the potential of bexarotene and a group of 62 novel rexinoids to bind and activate RXR using a series of biological assays and screening methods, including: 1) a mammalian two-hybrid system (M2H) and an 2) Retinoid X Receptor response element (RXRE)-mediated reporter assays in cultured human cells. Moreover, Liver X Receptor response element (LXRE)-mediated luciferase assays were performed to analyze the ability of the novel analogs to activate LXRE - directed transcription, and to induce ApoE messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) in U87 glial cells. Furthermore, the most potent analogs were analyzed via quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to determine efficacy in modulating expression of two critical tumor suppressor genes, activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3) and early growth response 3 (EGR3). Results from these multiple assays indicate that the panel of RXR ligands contains compounds with a range of activities, with some analogs capable of binding to RXR with higher affinity than others, and in some cases upregulating ApoE expression to a greater extent than bexarotene. The data suggests that minor modifications to the bexarotene core chemical structure may yield novel analogs possessing an equal or greater capacity to activate RXR and may be useful as therapeutic agents against CTCL and Alzheimer’s disease.