Confounding factors in targeted degradation of short-lived proteins

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Targeted protein degradation has recently emerged as a novel option in drug discovery. Natural protein half-life is expected to affect the efficacy of degrading agents, but to what extent it influences target protein degradation has not been systematically explored. Using mathematical modelling of protein degradation, we demonstrate that the natural half-life of a target protein has a dramatic effect on the level of protein degradation induced by a degrader agent which can pose significant hurdles to screening efforts. Moreover, we show that upon screening for degraders of short-lived proteins, agents that stall protein synthesis, such as GSPT1 degraders and generally cytotoxic compounds, deceptively appear as protein degrading agents. This is exemplified by the disappearance of short-lived proteins such as MCL1 and MDM2 upon GSPT1 degradation and upon treatment with cytotoxic agents such as doxorubicin. These findings have implications for target selection as well as for the type of control experiments required to conclude that a novel agent works as a bona fide targeted protein degrader.

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