The MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) p38 is an important mediator of inflammation and of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. We have described recently that docking-groove-dependent interactions are important for p38 MAPK-mediated signal transduction. Thus virtual screening was performed to identify putative docking-groove-targeted p38 MAPK inhibitors. Several compounds of the benzo-oxadiazol family were identified with low micromolar inhibitory activity both in a p38 MAPK activity assay, and in THP-1 human monocytes acting as inhibitors of LPS (lipopolysaccharide)-induced TNFα (tumour necrosis factor α) secretion. Positions 2 and 5 in the phenyl ring are essential for the described inhibitory activity with a chloride in position 5 and a methyl group in position 2 yielding the best results, giving an IC50 value of 1.8 μM (FGA-19 compound). Notably, FGA-19 exerted a potent and long-lasting analgesic effect in vivo when tested in a mouse model of inflammatory hyperalgesia. A single intrathecal injection of FGA-19 completely resolved hyperalgesia, being 10-fold as potent and displaying longer lasting effects than the established p38 MAPK inhibitor SB239063. FGA-19 also reversed persistent pain in a model of post-inflammatory hyperalgesia in LysM (lysozyme M)-GRK2 (G-protein-coupled-receptor kinase)+/− mice. These potent in vivo effects suggested p38 MAPK docking-site-targeted inhibitors as a potential novel strategy for the treatment of inflammatory pain.

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