The chemokine CXCL12 (SDF-1) and its cognate receptor CXCR4 are involved in a large number of physiological processes including HIV-1 infectivity, inflammation, tumorigenesis, stem cell migration, and autoimmune diseases. While previous efforts have identified a number of CXCR4 antagonists, there have been no small molecule agonists reported. Herein, we describe the identification of a novel series of CXCR4 modulators, including the first small molecules to display agonist behavior against this receptor, using a combination of structure- and ligand-based virtual screening. These agonists produce robust calcium mobilization in human melanoma cell lines which can be blocked by the CXCR4-selective antagonist AMD3100. We also demonstrate the ability of these new agonists to induce receptor internalization, ERK activation, and chemotaxis, all hallmarks of CXCR4 activation. Our results describe a new series of biologically relevant small molecules that will enable further study of the CXCR4 receptor and may contribute to the development of new therapeutics.
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