The covalent reactivity of functionalized 5-hydroxy-butyrolactams is the basis for targeting of fatty acid binding protein 5 (FABP5) by the neurotrophic agent MT-21

01 July 2022, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Covalently acting compounds experience a strong interest within chemical biology both as molecular probes in studies of fundamental biological mechanisms and/or as novel drug candidates. In this context, the identification of new classes of reactive groups are particularly important as these can expose novel reactivity modes and, consequently, expand the ligandable proteome. Here, we investigated the electrophilic reactivity of the 3-acyl-5-hydroxy-1,5-dihydro-2H-pyrrole-2-one (AHPO) scaffold, a heterocyclic motif that is e.g. present in various bioactive natural products. Our investigations were focused on the compound MT-21 - a simplified structural analogue of the natural product epolactaene - which is known to have both neurotrophic activity and ability to trigger apoptotic cell death. We found that the central N-acyl hemiaminal group of MT-21 can function as an electrophilic centre enabling divergent reactivity with both amine- and thiol-based nucleophiles, which furthermore translated to reactivity with proteins in both cell lysates and live cells. We found that in live cells MT-21 strongly engaged the lipid transport protein fatty acid-binding protein 5 (FABP5) by direct binding to a cysteine residue in the bottom of the ligand binding pocket. Through preparation of a series of MT-21 derivatives, we probed the specificity of this interaction which was found to be strongly dependent on subtle structural changes. Our study suggests that MT-21 may be employed as a tool compound in future studies of the biology of FABP5, which remains incompletely understood. Furthermore, our study has also made clear that other natural products containing the AHPO-motif may likewise possess covalent reactivity and that this property may underlie their biological activity.


Covalent compounds
target identification
natural products

Supplementary materials

Supplementary Information
Supplementary Figures 1-9 Supplementary Tables 1-3 Experimental descriptions and methods Compound characterisation data and copies of NMR spectra


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