Purdue University Graduate School

File(s) under embargo







until file(s) become available


posted on 2024-04-23, 22:09 authored by Ahad HossainAhad Hossain

Immunotherapy has revolutionized the field of oncology. While a lot of antibodies and small molecule inhibitors have been developed for this, a lot of targets remain undruggable in humans.

Targeted protein degradation has opened a new horizon in drug discovery where we can target these undruggable proteins. Proteolysis targeting chimeras using the ubiquitin-proteasomal system is one of the most popular TPD strategies that complement lysosomal degradation strategies to degrade intracellular proteins, typically using bifunctional small molecule degraders. Recently, large biomolecular and antibody conjugates have been developed for degrading membrane and extracellular proteins in cells, such as lysosomal targeting chimeras (LYTACs) and genetically encoded LYTACS, among several others. However, larger molecules have limitations in penetrating solid tumors. This dissertation work focused on the development of bifunctional small molecule degraders for programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1), a transmembrane protein ligand for the immune checkpoint programmed cell death 1 (PD-1). PD-L1 is highly expressed on several tumors, such as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), non-small cell lung carcinoma, and renal cancer, and is known to suppress cancer-killing immune cells via interaction with PD-1 on T-cells. In addition, PD-L1 is also present on macrophages in the tumor microenvironments leading to further immune suppression and acquired resistance to anti-PD-1 therapy is associated with the upregulation of alternative immune checkpoints, thereby reducing anti-tumor efficacy. We have designed and synthesized bifunctional small molecules as PD-L1 degraders with different recruiters and linkers guided by computational studies with known PD-1/PD-L1 structures to show both cell surface and total protein degradation in human TNBC cells. In a separate project, we also developed small molecule conjugates to degrade an intracellular integral membrane protein of the endoplasmic reticulum with an unknown 3D structure, namely Diglyceride acyltransferase 2 (DGAT2). Recently, our lab identified DGAT2 as a new target for combating Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, DGAT2 catalyzes triacylglycerol (TAG) synthesis using diacylglycerol and fatty acyl CoA as substrates. The accumulation of TAGs, mechanistically linked to DGAT2, results in “fat” or lipid droplets (LDs) inside the cells. Our lab showed that microglial cells (resident immune cells in the brain) accumulate LDs in the postmortem brains of human patients and mouse models (5xFAD) of Alzheimer’s disease and that the LD accumulation is driven by amyloid-beta (Ab) – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease – via DGAT2 pathway. Further, these LD-laden microglia have phagocytic defects and are spared Aβ thereby affecting plaque accumulation and clearance. Inhibiting DGAT2 reduces the amount of TAG in the brain, which in turn reduces LDs and restores microglial ability to phagocytose Ab. However, commercially available DGAT2 inhibitors were unable to reduce LD load in older 5xFAD mice. Using AlphaFold’s models of DGAT2, we designed and identified sites to synthesize bifunctional DGAT2 degraders that resulted in reduced LDs in mouse primary microglial cells and enhanced phagocytosis of Aβ plaques in vivo in aged 5xFAD mice. Our approach shows a framework to develop bifunctional small molecule degraders for membrane proteins to potentially combat immune dysregulation in chronic diseases.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Gaurav Chopra

Additional Committee Member 2

Herman O. Sintim

Additional Committee Member 3

Jonathan Wilker

Additional Committee Member 4

Abram J. Axelrod

Usage metrics



    Ref. manager