Molecular modelling of the FOXO4-TP53 interaction to design senolytic peptides for the elimination of senescent cancer cells

Hillary H. Le, Suleyman S. Cinaroglu, Elise C. Manalo, Aysegul Ors, Michelle M. Gomes, Burcin Duan Sahbaz, Karla Bonic, Carlos A. Origel Marmolejo, Arnaud Quentel, Justin S. Plaut, Taryn E. Kawashima, E. Sila Ozdemir, Sanjay V. Malhotra, Yavuz Ahiska, Ugur Sezerman, Gunseli Bayram Akcapinar, Joshua C. Saldivar, Emel Timucin, Jared M. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Senescent cells accumulate in tissues over time as part of the natural ageing process and the removal of senescent cells has shown promise for alleviating many different age-related diseases in mice. Cancer is an age-associated disease and there are numerous mechanisms driving cellular senescence in cancer that can be detrimental to recovery. Thus, it would be beneficial to develop a senolytic that acts not only on ageing cells but also senescent cancer cells to prevent cancer recurrence or progression. Methods: We used molecular modelling to develop a series of rationally designed peptides to mimic and target FOXO4 disrupting the FOXO4-TP53 interaction and releasing TP53 to induce apoptosis. We then tested these peptides as senolytic agents for the elimination of senescent cells both in cell culture and in vivo. Findings: Here we show that these peptides can act as senolytics for eliminating senescent human cancer cells both in cell culture and in orthotopic mouse models. We then further characterized one peptide, ES2, showing that it disrupts FOXO4-TP53 foci, activates TP53 mediated apoptosis and preferentially binds FOXO4 compared to TP53. Next, we show that intratumoural delivery of ES2 plus a BRAF inhibitor results in a significant increase in apoptosis and a survival advantage in mouse models of melanoma. Finally, we show that repeated systemic delivery of ES2 to older mice results in reduced senescent cell numbers in the liver with minimal toxicity. Interpretation: Taken together, our results reveal that peptides can be generated to specifically target and eliminate FOXO4+ senescent cancer cells, which has implications for eradicating residual disease and as a combination therapy for frontline treatment of cancer. Funding: This work was supported by the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103646
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Cancer
  • FOXO4
  • Senolytic
  • TP53

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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