The naturally occurring alkaloid Huperzine A (HupA) is an acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor that has been used for centuries as a Chinese folk medicine in the context of its source plant Huperzia Serrata. The potency and relative safety of HupA rendered it a promising drug for the ameliorative treatment of Alzheimers disease (AD) vis-a-vis the “cholinergic hypothesis” that attributes the cognitive decrements associated with AD to acetylcholine deficiency in the brain. However, recent evidence supports a neuroprotective role for HupA, suggesting that it could act as more than a mere palliative. Biochemical and crystallographic studies of AChE revealed two potential binding sites in the active-site gorge of AChE, one of which, the “peripheral anionic site” at the mouth of the gorge, was implicated in promoting aggregation of the beta amyloid (Aβ) peptide responsible for the neurodegenerative process in AD. This feature of AChE facilitated the development of dual-site binding HupA-based bivalent ligands, in hopes of concomitantly increasing AChE inhibition potency by utilizing the “chelate effect”, and protecting neurons from Aβ toxicity. Crystal structures of AChE allowed detailed modeling and docking studies that were instrumental in enhancing the understanding of underlying principles of bivalent inhibitor-enzyme dynamics. This monograph reviews two categories of HupA-based bivalent ligands, in which HupA and HupA fragments serve as building blocks, with a focus on the recently solved crystallographic structures of Torpedo californica AChE in complex with such bifunctional agents. The advantages and drawbacks of such structured-based drug design, as well as species differences, are highlighted and discussed.
Keywords: Acetylcholinesterase, Alzheimer's disease, bivalent ligand, chelate effect, huperzine A, hupyridone, tacrine, E2020
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