Highly Potent Cell-Permeable and Impermeable NanoLuc Luciferase Inhibitors

Novel engineered NanoLuc (Nluc) luciferase being smaller, brighter, and superior to traditional firefly (Fluc) or <i>Renilla</i> (Rluc) provides a great opportunity for the development of numerous biological, biomedical, clinical, and food and environmental safety applications. This new platform created an urgent need for Nluc inhibitors that could allow selective bioluminescent suppression and multiplexing compatibility with existing luminescence or fluorescence assays. Starting from thienopyrrole carboxylate <b>1</b>, a hit from a 42 000 PubChem compound library with a low micromolar IC<sub>50</sub> against Nluc, we derivatized four different structural fragments to discover a family of potent, single digit nanomolar, cell permeable inhibitors. Further elaboration revealed a channel that allowed access to the external Nluc surface, resulting in a series of highly potent cell impermeable Nluc inhibitors with negatively charged groups likely extending to the protein surface. The permeability was evaluated by comparing EC<sub>50</sub> shifts calculated from both live and lysed cells expressing Nluc cytosolically. Luminescence imaging further confirmed that cell permeable compounds inhibit both intracellular and extracellular Nluc, whereas less permeable compounds differentially inhibit extracellular Nluc and Nluc on the cell surface. The compounds displayed little to no toxicity to cells and high luciferase specificity, showing no activity against firefly luciferase or even the closely related NanoBit system. Looking forward, the structural motifs used to gain access to the Nluc surface can also be appended with other functional groups, and therefore interesting opportunities for developing assays based on relief-of-inhibition can be envisioned.