Identification of a Putative α-synuclein Radioligand Using an in silico Similarity Search

Bieneke Janssen, Guilong Tian, Zsofia Lengyel-Zhand, Chia Ju Hsieh, Marshall G. Lougee, Aladdin Riad, Kuiying Xu, Catherine Hou, Chi Chang Weng, Brian J. Lopresti, Hee Jong Kim, Vinayak V. Pagar, John J. Ferrie, Benjamin A. Garcia, Chester A. Mathis, Kelvin Luk, E. James Petersson, Robert H. Mach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose: Previous studies from our lab utilized an ultra-high throughput screening method to identify compound 1 as a small molecule that binds to alpha-synuclein (α-synuclein) fibrils. The goal of the current study was to conduct a similarity search of 1 to identify structural analogs having improved in vitro binding properties for this target that could be labeled with radionuclides for both in vitro and in vivo studies for measuring α-synuclein aggregates. Methods: Using 1 as a lead compound in a similarity search, isoxazole derivative 15 was identified to bind to α-synuclein fibrils with high affinity in competition binding assays. A photocrosslinkable version was used to confirm binding site preference. Derivative 21, the iodo-analog of 15, was synthesized, and subsequently radiolabeled isotopologs [125I]21 and [11C]21 were successfully synthesized for use in in vitro and in vivo studies, respectively. [125I]21 was used in radioligand binding studies in post-mortem Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brain homogenates. In vivo imaging of an α-synuclein mouse model and non-human primates was performed with [11C]21. Results: In silico molecular docking and molecular dynamic simulation studies for a panel of compounds identified through a similarity search, were shown to correlate with Ki values obtained from in vitro binding studies. Improved affinity of isoxazole derivative 15 for α-synuclein binding site 9 was indicated by photocrosslinking studies with CLX10. Design and successful (radio)synthesis of iodo-analog 21 of isoxazole derivative 15 enabled further in vitro and in vivo evaluation. Kd values obtained in vitro with [125I]21 for α-synuclein and Aβ42 fibrils were 0.48 ± 0.08 nM and 2.47 ± 1.30 nM, respectively. [125I]21 showed higher binding in human postmortem PD brain tissue compared with AD tissue, and low binding in control brain tissue. Lastly, in vivo preclinical PET imaging showed elevated retention of [11C]21 in PFF-injected mouse brain. However, in PBS-injected control mouse brain, slow washout of the tracer indicates high non-specific binding. [11C]21 showed high initial brain uptake in a healthy non-human primate, followed by fast washout that may be caused by rapid metabolic rate (21% intact [11C]21 in blood at 5 min p.i.). Conclusion: Through a relatively simple ligand-based similarity search, we identified a new radioligand that binds with high affinity (<10 nM) to α-synuclein fibrils and PD tissue. Although the radioligand has suboptimal selectivity for α-synuclein towards Aβ and high non-specific binding, we show here that a simple in silico approach is a promising strategy to identify novel ligands for target proteins in the CNS with the potential to be radiolabeled for PET neuroimaging studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-719
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Imaging and Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Alpha-synuclein
  • PET
  • Photocrosslinking
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Similarity search


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