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Plant homeodomain fingers (PHD-fingers) are a family of reader domains that can recruit epigenetic proteins to specific histone modification sites. Many PHD-fingers recognise methylated lysines on histone tails and play crucial roles in transcriptional regulation, with their dysregulation linked to various human diseases. Despite their biological importance, chemical inhibitors for targeting PHD-fingers are very limited. Here we report a potent and selective de novo cyclic peptide inhibitor (OC9) targeting the Nϵ-trimethyllysine-binding PHD-fingers of the KDM7 histone demethylases, developed using mRNA display. OC9 disrupts PHD-finger interaction with histone H3K4me3 by engaging the Nϵ-methyllysine-binding aromatic cage through a valine, revealing a new non-lysine recognition motif for the PHD-fingers that does not require cation-π interaction. PHD-finger inhibition by OC9 impacted JmjC-domain mediated demethylase activity at H3K9me2, leading to inhibition of KDM7B (PHF8) but stimulation of KDM7A (KIAA1718), representing a new approach for selective allosteric modulation of demethylase activity. Chemoproteomic analysis showed selective engagement of OC9 with KDM7s in T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma SUP T1 cells. Our results highlight the utility of mRNA-display derived cyclic peptides for targeting challenging epigenetic reader proteins to probe their biology, and the broader potential of this approach for targeting protein-protein interactions.

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Journal article


Chemical Science

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