Investigation of ghrelin-o-acyltransferase as a target for treating hyperphagia in Prader-Willi syndrome (Year 1)

Obesity and insatiable appetite (hyperphagia) are among the most serious symptoms experienced by Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) patients.  While many of the causes underlying PWS symptoms remain unknown, the discovery of the protein hormone ghrelin and its role in controlling appetite has led researchers to investigate the possible role of ghrelin in PWS.  Patients with PWS have elevated levels of ghrelin in their bloodstreams, suggesting that the voracious appetite that accompanies PWS may arise from overstimulation of ghrelin-mediated signaling.  Based on this hypothesis, novel therapeutic agents targeting ghrelin have potential as treatment options for PWS-associated hyperphagia.

Ghrelin O-acyltransferase (GOAT), an enzyme that modifies ghrelin, offers an excellent target for specifically blocking ghrelin activity.  GOAT attaches a fatty acid to ghrelin, with only the modified form of ghrelin demonstrated to activate hunger signaling.  This fatty acid modification is unique to ghrelin among appetite-regulating hormones, making it likely that blocking it with GOAT-specific inhibitors will only affect ghrelin signaling.  However, designing inhibitors for GOAT is currently difficult because very little is known about how GOAT binds ghrelin and catalyzes ghrelin modification.  To relieve this bottleneck in developing GOAT inhibitors, our research will determine the interactions between ghrelin and GOAT that are required for GOAT-catalyzed ghrelin modification.  We will then use synthetic chemistry to create molecules that block these interactions for evaluation as potential GOAT inhibitors.  By gathering fundamental knowledge about how GOAT recognizes and modifies the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin, we will lay the foundation for creating a novel class of therapeutics for treating hyperphagia in patients with PWS.

Research Outcomes:

Functional group and stereochemical requirements for substrate binding by ghrelin O-acyltransferase revealed by unnatural amino acid incorporation. Cleverdon ER, Davis TR, Hougland JL. Bioorganic Chemistry 79:98-106, 2018.

Synthetic triterpenoid inhibition of human ghrelin O-acyltransferase implicates a functionally essential cysteine in ghrelin acylation. McGovern-Gooch KR, Mahajani NS, Garagozzo A, Schramm AJ, Hannah LG, Sieburg MA, Chisholm JD, and Hougland JLBiochemistry 2017, 56, 919-931

Ghrelin octanoylation is completely stabilized in biological samples by alkyl fluorophosphonates. McGovern-Gooch KR, Rodrigues T, Darling JE, Abizaid A, Hougland JL.  Endocrinology 2016, 157, 4330-4338.

Progress in Small Molecule and Biologic Therapeutics Targeting Ghrelin Signaling. McGovern KR, Darling JE, Hougland JL. Minireviews in Medicinal Chemistry, 2016 16, 465-80.

Novel Regulator of Acylated Ghrelin, CF801, Reduces Weight Gain, Rebound Feeding after a Fast, and Adiposity in Mice. Wellman MK, Patterson ZR, MacKay H, Darling JE, Mani BK, Zigman JM, Hougland JL, Abizaid A.  Frontiers in Endocrinology (Lausanne). 2015 Sep 25;6:144. 

A new class of ghrelin O-acyltransferase inhibitors incorporating triazole-linked lipid mimetic groups. Zhao F, Darling JE, Gibbs RA, Hougland JL Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters.  2015 Jul 15;25(14):2800-3. 

Structure-activity analysis of human ghrelin o-acyltransferase reveals chemical determinants of ghrelin selectivity and acyl group recognition. Darling JE, Zhao F, Loftus RJ, Patton LM, Gibbs RA, Hougland JL. Biochemistry, 2015 Feb 3;54(4):1100-10.

Funded Year:


Awarded to:

James Hougland, PhD


$108,000 (OSS Funds, with PWSA)


Syracuse University

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