In situ albumin-binding and esterase-specifically cleaved BRD4-degrading PROTAC for targeted cancer therapy

Hanhee Cho, Seong Ik Jeon, Man Kyu Shim, Cheol Hee Ahn, Kwangmeyung Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Proteolysis-targeting chimeras (PROTACs) have recently been of great interest in cancer therapy. However, the bioavailability of PROTACs is considerably restricted due to their high hydrophobicity, poor cell permeability, and thereby low tumor targeting ability. Herein, esterase-cleavable maleimide linker (ECMal)-conjugated bromodomain 4 (BRD4)-degrading PROTAC (ECMal-PROTAC) is newly synthesized to exploit plasma albumin as an ‘innate drug carrier’ that can be accumulated in targeted tumor tissues. The BRD4-degrading ECMal-PROTAC is spontaneously bound to albumins via the thiol-maleimide click chemistry and its esterase-specific cleavage of ECMal-PROTAC is characterized in physiological conditions. The albumin-bound ECMal-PROTACs (Alb-ECMal-PROTACs) have an average size of 6.99 ± 1.38 nm, which is similar to that of free albumins without denaturation or aggregation. When Alb-ECMal-PROTACs are treated to 4T1 tumor cells, they are actively endocytosed and reach their highest intracellular level within 12 h. Furthermore, the maleimide linkers of Alb-ECMal-PROTACs are cleaved by the esterase to release free BRD-4 degrading PROTACs and the cell-internalized PROTACs successfully catalyze the selective degradation of BRD4 proteins, resulting in BRD4 deficiency-related apoptosis. When ECMal-PROTACs are intravenously injected into tumor-bearing mice, they exhibit a 16.3-fold higher tumor accumulation than free BRD4-PROTAC, due to the shuttling effect of albumin for tumor targeting. Finally, ECMal-PROTACs show 5.3-fold enhanced antitumor efficacy compared to free BRD4-PROTAC, without provoking any severe systemic toxicity. The expression of Bcl-2 and c-Myc, the downstream oncogenic proteins of BRD4, are also effectively suppressed. In summary, the in situ albumin binding of ECMal-PROTAC is proven as a promising strategy that effectively modulates its pharmacokinetics and therapeutic performance with high applicability to other types of PROTACs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number122038
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Apr
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • Albumin-binding
  • BRD4 degradation
  • Esterase-cleavable maleimide linker
  • Shuttling effect
  • Targeted cancer therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials


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