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Nitrile in the Hole: Discovery of a Small Auxiliary Pocket in Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase Leading to the Development of Potent and Selective 2‑Aminoquinoline Inhibitors


Neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) inhibition is a promising strategy to treat neurodegenerative disorders, but the development of nNOS inhibitors is often hindered by poor pharmacokinetics. We previously developed a class of membrane-permeable 2-aminoquinoline inhibitors and later rearranged the scaffold to decrease off-target binding. However, the resulting compounds had decreased permeability, low human nNOS activity, and low selectivity versus human eNOS. In this study, 5-substituted phenyl ether-linked aminoquinolines and derivatives were synthesized and assayed against purified NOS isoforms. 5-Cyano compounds are especially potent and selective rat and human nNOS inhibitors. Activity and selectivity are mediated by the binding of the cyano group to a new auxiliary pocket in nNOS. Potency was enhanced by methylation of the quinoline and by introduction of simple chiral moieties, resulting in a combination of hydrophobic and auxiliary pocket effects that yielded high (∼500-fold) n/e selectivity. Importantly, the Caco-2 assay also revealed improved membrane permeability over previous compounds.

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