Structure-based discovery of 1H-indole-2-carboxamide derivatives as potent ASK1 inhibitors for potential treatment of ulcerative colitis

Apoptosis signal-regulating kinase 1 (ASK1), a member of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) family, is implicated in many human diseases. Here, we describe the structural optimization of hit compound 7 and conduct further structure-activity relationship (SAR) studies that result in the development of compound 19 with a novel indole-2-carboxamide hinge scaffold. Compound 19 displays potent anti-ASK1 kinase activity and stronger inhibitory effect on ASK1 in AP1-HEK293 cells than previously described ASK1 inhibitor GS-4997. Besides improved in vitro activity, compound 19 also exhibits an appropriate in vivo PK profile. In a dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced mouse model of ulcerative colitis (UC), compound 19 shows significant anti-UC efficacy and markedly attenuates DSS-induced body weight loss, colonic shortening, elevation in disease activity index (DAI) and inflammatory cell infiltration in colon tissues. Mechanistically, compound 19 represses the phosphorylation of ASK1-p38/JNK signaling pathways and suppresses the overexpression of inflammatory cytokines. Together, these findings suggest that ASK1 inhibitors can potentially be used as a therapeutic strategy for UC.

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