Mattia Poletto 1 , Matilde C Malfatti 1 , Dorjbal Dorjsuren 2 , Pasqualina L Scognamiglio 3 , 4 , Daniela Marasco 3 , Carlo Vascotto 1 , Ajit Jadhav 2 , David J Maloney 2 , David M Wilson 5 , Anton Simeonov 2 , Gianluca Tell 1
The apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease 1 (APE1) is a protein central to the base excision DNA repair pathway and operates in the modulation of gene expression through redox-dependent and independent mechanisms. Aberrant expression and localization of APE1 in tumors are recurrent hallmarks of aggressiveness and resistance to therapy. We identified and characterized the molecular association between APE1 and nucleophosmin (NPM1), a multifunctional protein involved in the preservation of genome stability and rRNA maturation. This protein-protein interaction modulates subcellular localization and endonuclease activity of APE1. Moreover, we reported a correlation between APE1 and NPM1 expression levels in ovarian cancer, with NPM1 overexpression being a marker of poor prognosis. These observations suggest that tumors that display an augmented APE1/NPM1 association may exhibit increased aggressiveness and resistance. Therefore, targeting the APE1/NPM1 interaction might represent an innovative strategy for the development of anticancer drugs, as tumor cells relying on higher levels of APE1 and NPM1 for proliferation and survival may be more sensitive than untransformed cells. We set up a chemiluminescence-based high-throughput screening assay in order to find small molecules able to interfere with the APE1/NPM1 interaction. This screening led to the identification of a set of bioactive compounds that impair the APE1/NPM1 association in living cells. Interestingly, some of these molecules display anti-proliferative activity and sensitize cells to therapeutically relevant genotoxins. Given the prognostic significance of APE1 and NPM1, these compounds might prove effective in the treatment of tumors that show abundant levels of both proteins, such as ovarian or hepatic carcinomas.