Elma Mons, Robbert Q. Kim, Bjorn R. van Doodewaerd, Peter A. van Veelen, Monique P. C. Mulder, and Huib Ovaa
J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2021, 143, 17, 6423–6433
Terminal unactivated alkynes are nowadays considered the golden standard for cysteine-reactive warheads in activity-based probes (ABPs) targeting cysteine deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs). In this work, we study the versatility of the thiol–alkyne addition reaction in more depth. Contrary to previous findings with UCHL3, we now show that covalent adduct formation can progress with substituents on the terminal or internal alkyne position. Strikingly, acceptance of alkyne substituents is strictly DUB-specific as this is not conserved among members of the same subfamily. Covalent adduct formation with the catalytic cysteine residue was validated by gel analysis and mass spectrometry of intact ABP-treated USP16CDWT and catalytically inactive mutant USP16CDC205A. Bottom-up mass spectrometric analysis of the covalent adduct with a deuterated propargyl ABP provides mechanistic understanding of the in situ thiol–alkyne reaction, identifying the alkyne rather than an allenic intermediate as the reactive species. Furthermore, kinetic analysis revealed that introduction of (bulky/electron-donating) methyl substituents on the propargyl moiety decreases the rate of covalent adduct formation, thus providing a rational explanation for the commonly lower level of observed covalent adduct compared to unmodified alkynes. Altogether, our work extends the scope of possible propargyl derivatives in cysteine targeting ABPs from unmodified terminal alkynes to internal and substituted alkynes, which we anticipate will have great value in the development of ABPs with improved selectivity profiles.