The EPAC (exchange protein directly activated by cAMP) proteins are GEFs (guanine nucleotide-exchange factors) that activate Rap GTPases upon binding to cAMP. The involvement of these proteins in a number of diseases, neurodegenerative, inflammatory and metabolic, has started to show how they may prove to be important targets for therapeutic intervention. We first became interested in EPAC when we discovered that the expression levels of both EPAC1 and EPAC2 were altered in those regions of the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease [McPhee, Breslin, Kewney, MacKenzie, Cooreman, Gibson and Hammond (2004) International Patent number WO 2004/096199 A2]. It was known that compounds could be designed to be selective for EPAC over PKA (protein kinase A); however, these compounds were all based around the core structure of cAMP. We decided to screen a small compound library (10000 compounds) to investigate the possibility of developing a compound series outside of the cAMP structure. We subsequently developed a novel, high-throughput screen based on the displacement of [3H]cAMP from the EPAC cAMP-binding site and identified small molecule hits from the Scottish Biomedical Lead Generation Library. These compounds selectively bind to the cAMP-binding sites of EPAC1 and EPAC2 and are structurally dissimilar to cAMP. They have similar affinities for both EPAC1 and EPAC2 and have a high degree of specificity for EPAC over PKA. We believe that these compounds provide a valuable starting point for a drug optimization programme.

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