Fluorescent Probes with Unnatural Amino Acids to Monitor Proteasome Activity in Real-Time

The proteasome is an essential protein complex that, when dysregulated, can result in various diseases in eukaryotic cells. As such, understanding the enzymatic activity of the proteasome and what can alter it is crucial to elucidating its roles in these diseases. This can be done effectively by using activity-based fluorescent substrate probes, of which there are many commercially available that target the individual protease-like subunits in the 20S CP of the proteasome. Unfortunately, these probes have not displayed appropriate characteristics for their use in live cell-based assays. In the work presented here, we have developed a set of probes which have shown improved fluorescence properties and selectivity towards the proteasome compared to other cellular proteases. By including unnatural amino acids, we have found probes which can be utilized in various applications, including monitoring the effects of small molecule stimulators of the proteasome in live cells and comparing the relative proteasome activity across different cancer cell types. In future studies, we expect the fluorescent probes presented here will serve as tools to support the discovery and characterization of small molecule modulators of proteasome activity.