In its basal state, KEAP1 binds the transcription factor NRF2 (Kd = 5 nM) and promotes its degradation by ubiquitylation. Changes in the redox environment lead to modification of key cysteines within KEAP1, resulting in NRF2 protein accumulation and the transcription of genes important for restoring the cellular redox state. Using phage display and a computational loop grafting protocol, we engineered a monobody (R1) that is a potent competitive inhibitor of the KEAP1-NRF2 interaction. R1 bound to KEAP1 with a Kd of 300 pM and in human cells freed NRF2 from KEAP1 resulting in activation of the NRF2 promoter. Unlike cysteine-reactive small molecules that lack protein specificity, R1 is a genetically encoded, reversible inhibitor designed specifically for KEAP1. R1 should prove useful for studying the role of the KEAP1-NRF2 interaction in several disease states. The structure-based phage display strategy employed here is a general approach for engineering high-affinity binders that compete with naturally occurring interactions.
- Rosetta molecular modeling program
- protein design
- redox regulation