The HIV protease inhibitor saquinavir inhibits HMGB1-driven inflammation by targeting the interaction of cathepsin V with TLR4/MyD88

John P. Pribis, Yousef Al-Abed, Huan Yang, Domokos Gero, Hongbo Xu, Marcelo F. Montenegro, Eileen M. Bauer, Sodam Kim, Sangeeta S. Chavan, Changchun Cai, Tunliang Li, Petra Szoleczky, Csaba Szabo, Kevin J. Tracey, Timothy R. Billiar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Extracellular high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) (disulfide form), via activation of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-dependent signaling, is a strong driver of pathologic inflammation in both acute and chronic conditions. Identification of selective inhibitors of HMGB1-TLR4 signaling could offer novel therapies that selectively target proximal endogenous activators of inflammation. A cell-based screening strategy led us to identify first generation HIV-protease inhibitors (PI) as potential inhibitors of HMGB1-TLR4 driven cytokine production. Here we report that the first-generation HIV-PI saquinavir (SQV), as well as a newly identified mammalian protease inhibitor STO33438 (334), potently block disulfide HMGB1-induced TLR4 activation, as assayed by the production of TNF-α by human monocyte-derived macro-phages (THP-1). We further report on the identification of mammalian cathepsin V, a protease, as a novel target of these inhibitors. Cellular as well as recombinant protein studies show that the mechanism of action involves a direct interaction between cathepsin V with TLR4 and its adaptor protein MyD88. Treatment with SQV, 334 or the known cathepsin inhibitor SID26681509 (SID) significantly improved survival in murine models of sepsis and reduced liver damage following warm liver ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) models, both characterized by strong HMGB1-TLR4 driven pathology. The current study demonstrates a novel role for cathepsin V in TLR4 signaling and implicates cathepsin V as a novel target for first-generation HIV-PI compounds. The identification of cathepsin V as a target to block HMGB1-TLR4-driven inflammation could allow for a rapid transition of the discovery from the bench to the bedside. Disulfide HMGB1 drives pathologic inflammation in many models by activating signaling through TLR4. Cell-based screening identified the mammalian protease cathepsin V as a novel therapeutic target to inhibit TLR4-mediated inflammation induced by extracellular HMGB1 (disulfide form). We identified two protease inhibitors (PIs) that block cathepsin V and thereby inhibit disulfide HMGB1-induced TLR4 activation: saquinavir (SQV), a firstgeneration PI targeting viral HIV protease and STO33438 (334), targeting mammalian proteases. We discovered that cathepsin V binds TLR4 under basal and HMGB1-stimulated conditions, but dissociates in the presence of SQV over time. Thus cathepsin V is a novel target for first-generation HIV PIs and represents a potential therapeutic target of pathologic inflammation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-757
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular medicine (Cambridge, Mass.)
StatePublished - 24 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


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