Prostate cancer cells produce high (microgram to milligram/milliliter) levels of the serine protease Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). PSA is enzymatically active in the extracellular fluid surrounding prostate cancers but is found at 1,000- to 10,000-fold lower concentrations in the circulation, where it is inactivated due to binding to abundant serum protease inhibitors. The exclusive presence of high levels of active PSA within prostate cancer sites makes PSA an attractive candidate for targeted imaging and therapeutics. A synthetic approach based on a peptide substrate identified first peptide aldehyde and then boronic acid inhibitors of PSA. The best of these had the sequence Cbz-Ser-Ser-Lys-Leu-(boro)Leu, with a Ki for PSA of 65 nM. The inhibitor had a 60-fold higher Ki for chymotrypsin. A validated model of PSA's catalytic site confirmed the critical interactions between the inhibitor and residues within the PSA enzyme.
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We greatly appreciate the advice on chemical syntheses provided by Aneta Modzelewska and Surojit Sir at Johns Hopkins. This work was supported by an award from the One-in Six Foundation, Akron, Ohio.