Research Papers:

A high-content AlphaScreen™ identifies E6-specific small molecule inhibitors as potential therapeutics for HPV+ head and neck squamous cell carcinomas

Lennox Chitsike, Chung-Hsiang Yuan, Anuradha Roy, Kristopher Boyle and Penelope J. Duerksen-Hughes _

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Oncotarget. 2021; 12:549-561. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.27908

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Lennox Chitsike1, Chung-Hsiang Yuan1, Anuradha Roy2, Kristopher Boyle3 and Penelope J. Duerksen-Hughes1

1 Department of Basic Science, School of Medicine, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, USA

2 High-Throughput Screening Laboratory, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA

3 School of Pharmacy, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, USA

Correspondence to:

Penelope J. Duerksen-Hughes,email: [email protected]

Keywords: HNSCC; HPV; E6; AlphaScreen™; 30-hydroxygambogic acid

Received: December 18, 2020     Accepted: February 15, 2021     Published: March 16, 2021

Copyright: © 2021 Chitsike et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


The incidence of human papillomavirus-positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HPV+-HNSCC) has increased dramatically over the past decades due to an increase in infection of the oral mucosa by HPV. The etiology of HPV+-HNSCC is linked to expression of the HPV oncoprotein, E6, which influences tumor formation, growth and survival. E6 effects this oncogenic phenotype in part through inhibitory protein-protein interactions (PPIs) and accelerated degradation of proteins with tumor suppressor properties, such as p53 and caspase 8. Interfering with the binding between E6 and its cellular partners may therefore represent a reasonable pharmacological intervention in HPV+ tumors. In this study, we probed a small-molecule library using AlphaScreen™ technology to discover novel E6 inhibitors. Following a cascade of screens we identified and prioritized one hit compound. Structure activity relationship (SAR) studies of this lead uncovered an analog, 30-hydroxygambogic acid (GA-OH), that displayed improved activity. Further testing of this analog in a panel of HPV+ and HPV cell lines showed good potency and a large window of selectivity as demonstrated by apoptosis induction and significant inhibition of cell growth, cell survival in HPV+ cells. In summary, GA-OH may serve as a starting point for the development of potent E6-specific inhibitors.

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