High-throughput screens for agonists of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling identify potent benzoxazole compounds
Bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling is critical in renal development and disease. In animal models of chronic kid- ney disease (CKD), re-activation of BMP signaling is reported to be protective by promoting renal repair and regeneration. Clin- ical use of recombinant BMPs, however, requires harmful doses to achieve efficacy and is costly because of BMPs’ complex syn- thesis. Therefore, alternative strategies are needed to harness the beneficial effects of BMP signaling in CKD. Key aspects of the BMP signaling pathway can be regulated by both extracellular and intracellular molecules. In particular, secreted proteins like noggin and chordin inhibit BMP activity, whereas kielin/chordin-like proteins (KCP) enhance it and attenuate kidney fibrosis or CKD. Clinical development of KCP, however, is precluded by its size and complexity. Therefore, we propose an alternative strategy to enhance BMP signaling by using small molecules, which are simpler to synthesize and more cost-effective. To address our objective, here we developed a small-molecule high-throughput screen (HTS) with human renal cells having an integrated luciferase construct highly responsive to BMPs. We demonstrate the activity of a potent benzoxazole compound, sb4, that rapidly stimulated BMP signaling in these cells. Activation of BMP signaling by sb4 increased the phosphorylation of key second messengers (SMAD-1/5/9) and also increased expression of direct target genes (inhibitors of DNA binding, Id1 and Id3) in canonical BMP signaling. Our results underscore the feasibility of utilizing HTS to identify compounds that mimic key downstream events of BMP signaling in renal cells and have yielded a lead BMP agonist.