In search of a small molecule agonist of the relaxin receptor RXFP1 for the treatment of liver fibrosis

Andrew McBride, Anna M Hoy, Mark J Bamford, Danuta E Mossakowska, Martin P Ruediger, Jeremy Griggs, Sapna Desai, Kate Simpson, Ivan Caballero-Hernandez, John P Iredale, Theresa Pell, Rebecca L Aucott, Duncan S Holmes, Scott P Webster, Jonathan A Fallowfield

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The peptide hormone human relaxin-2 (H2-RLX) has emerged as a potential therapy for cardiovascular and fibrotic diseases, but its short in vivo half-life is an obstacle to long-term administration. The discovery of ML290 demonstrated that it is possible to identify small molecule agonists of the cognate G-protein coupled receptor for H2-RLX (relaxin family peptide receptor-1 (RXFP1)). In our efforts to generate a new medicine for liver fibrosis, we sought to identify improved small molecule functional mimetics of H2-RLX with selective, full agonist or positive allosteric modulator activity against RXFP1. First, we confirmed expression of RXFP1 in human diseased liver. We developed a robust cellular cAMP reporter assay of RXFP1 signaling in HEK293 cells transiently expressing RXFP1. A high-throughput screen did not identify further specific agonists or positive allosteric modulators of RXFP1, affirming the low druggability of this receptor. As an alternative approach, we generated novel ML290 analogues and tested their activity in the HEK293-RXFP1 cAMP assay and the human hepatic cell line LX-2. Differences in activity of compounds on cAMP activation compared with changes in expression of fibrotic markers indicate the need to better understand cell- and tissue-specific signaling mechanisms and their disease-relevant phenotypes in order to enable drug discovery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10806
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sep 2017


  • Journal Article


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