Orthosteric and Allosteric Dual Targeting of the Nuclear Receptor RORγt with a Bitopic Ligand

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The RORγt nuclear receptor (NR) is of critical importance for the differentiation and proliferation of T helper 17 (Th17) cells and their production of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-17a. Dysregulation of RORγt has been linked to various autoimmune diseases, and small molecule inhibition of RORγt is therefore an attractive strategy to treat these diseases. RORγt is a unique NR in that it contains both a canonical, orthosteric and a second, allosteric ligand binding site in its ligand binding domain (LBD). Hence, dual targeting of both binding pockets constitutes an attractive alternative molecular entry for pharmacological modulation. Here, we report a chemical biology approach to develop a bitopic ligand for the RORγt NR, enabling concomitant engagement of both binding pockets. Three candidate bitopic ligands, Bit-L15, Bit-L9, and Bit-L4, comprising an orthosteric and allosteric RORγt pharmacophore linked via a polyethylene glycol (PEG) linker, were designed, synthesized, and evaluated to examine the influence of linker length on the RORγt binding mode. Bit-L15 and Bit-L9 show convincing evidence of concomitant engagement of both RORγt binding pockets, while the shorter Bit-L4 does not show this evidence, as was anticipated during the ligand design. As the most potent bitopic RORγt ligand, Bit-L15, antagonizes RORγt function in a potent manner in both a biochemical and cellular context. Furthermore, Bit-L15 displays an increased selectivity for RORγt over RORα and PPARγ compared to the purely orthosteric and allosteric parent compounds. Combined, these results highlight potential advantages of bitopic NR modulation over monovalent targeting strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510–519
Number of pages10
JournalACS Chemical Biology
Issue number3
Early online date17 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2021


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