NPY1R-targeted peptide-mediated delivery of a dual PPARα/γ agonist to adipocytes enhances adipogenesis and prevents diabetes progression

Stefanie Wittrisch, Nora Klöting, Karin Mörl, Rima Chakaroun, Matthias Blüher, Annette G. Beck-Sickinger

Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) agonists have an outstanding anti-diabetic potential as they promote adipogenesis and lead to the development of small, metabolically healthy adipocytes. However, these molecules also regulate a variety of processes in other cell types. Therefore, the clinical application of some PPARγ agonists is accompanied by serious side effects. To avoid this, Wittrisch et al. developed a peptide drug conjugate with the dual PPARα/γ agonist tesaglitazar (tesa) and a form of neuropeptide Y. This construct binds to NPY1-receptor on adipocytes for cell-type specific uptake. The authors show that the peptide conjugate prevents diabetes progression as efficiently as systemically administered tesa.

Objective: PPARα/γ dual agonists have been in clinical development for the treatment of metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia. However, severe adverse side effects led to complications in clinical trials. As most of the beneficial effects rely on the compound activity in adipocytes, the selective targeting of this cell type is a cutting-edge strategy to develop safe anti-diabetic drugs. The goal of this study was to strengthen the adipocyte-specific uptake of the PPARα/γ agonist tesaglitazar via NPY1R-mediated internalization.

Methods: NPY1R-preferring peptide tesaglitazar-[F7, P34]-NPY (tesa-NPY) was synthesized by a combination of automated SPPS and manual couplings. Following molecular and functional analyses for proof of concept, cell culture experiments were conducted to monitor the effects on adipogenesis. Mice treated with peptide drug conjugates or vehicle either by gavage or intraperitoneal injection were characterized phenotypically and metabolically. Histological analysis and transcriptional profiling of the adipose tissue were performed.

Results: In vitro studies revealed that the tesaglitazar-[F7, P34]-NPY conjugate selectively activates PPARγ in NPY1R-expressing cells and enhances adipocyte differentiation and adiponectin expression in adipocyte precursor cells. In vivo studies using db/db mice demonstrated that the anti-diabetic activity of the peptide conjugate is as efficient as that of systemically administered tesaglitazar. Additionally, tesa-NPY induces adipocyte differentiation in vivo.

Conclusions: The use of the tesaglitazar-[F7, P34]-NPY conjugate is a promising strategy to apply the beneficial PPARα/γ effects in adipocytes while potentially omitting adverse effects in other tissues.