An Innovative High-Throughput Screening Approach for Discovery of Small Molecules That Inhibit TNF Receptors

Chih Hung Lo, Nagamani Vunnam, Andrew K Lewis, Ting Lan Chiu, Benjamin E. Brummel, Tory M. Schaaf, Benjamin D. Grant, Prachi Bawaskar, David D Thomas, Jonathan N Sachs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations


Tumor necrosis factor receptor 1 (TNFR1) is a transmembrane receptor that binds tumor necrosis factor or lymphotoxin-alpha and plays a critical role in regulating the inflammatory response. Upregulation of these ligands is associated with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Current treatments reduce symptoms by sequestering free ligands, but this can cause adverse side effects by unintentionally inhibiting ligand binding to off-target receptors. Hence, there is a need for new small molecules that specifically target the receptors, rather than the ligands. Here, we developed a TNFR1 FRET biosensor expressed in living cells to screen compounds from the NIH Clinical Collection. We used an innovative high-throughput fluorescence lifetime screening platform that has exquisite spatial and temporal resolution to identify two small-molecule compounds, zafirlukast and triclabendazole, that inhibit the TNFR1-induced IκBα degradation and NF-κB activation. Biochemical and computational docking methods were used to show that zafirlukast disrupts the interactions between TNFR1 pre-ligand assembly domain (PLAD), whereas triclabendazole acts allosterically. Importantly, neither compound inhibits ligand binding, proving for the first time that it is possible to inhibit receptor activation by targeting TNF receptor–receptor interactions. This strategy should be generally applicable to other members of the TNFR superfamily, as well as to oligomeric receptors in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)950-961
Number of pages12
JournalSLAS Discovery
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • NF-κB inhibition
  • pre-ligand assembly domain
  • receptor–receptor interaction
  • time-resolved FRET
  • tumor necrosis factor receptor 1

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