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N-Butyl-deoxynojirimycin (NB-DNJ) has been approved for clinical trials as a potential therapy for Gaucher disease, a glycolipid lysosomal storage disorder. As this compound has both glycoprotein processing α-glucosidase and ceramide glucosyltransferase inhibitory activity, we have sought to determine the molecular basis for these two activities. NB-DNJ is known to resemble the positively charged oxocarbonium-like transition state for α-glucosidase I and the structure-function relationships we present now help to define the recognition epitope for the enzyme. Inhibition of ceramide glucosyltransferase by NB-DNJ was competitive for ceramide (K(i)=7.4 μM) and non-competitive for UDP-glucose, indicating inhibitory activity is by ceramide mimicry. The presence of an N-alkyl chain was obligatory for transferase inhibition and increases in alkyl chain length provided a modest increase in inhibitory potency.By contrast, α-glucosidase inhibition was independent of the N-alkyl chain and changes in chain length. The effects of ring substitutions identified the C3hydroxyl group as being critical for both enzymes but C1and C6modifications led to a loss of transferase inhibition only. Attempts to rationalise these data for transferase inhibition using an energy minimised molecular model of NB-DNJ and ceramide predicted structural homology of three stereogenic centres and the N-alkyl chain of NB-DNJ, with the trans-alkenyl and N-acyl chain of ceramide. On the basis of these studies, modifications to imino sugar inhibitors can be suggested that allow a more selective approach for molecular inhibition of both ceramide glucosyltransferase and α-glucosidase I, leading to improved compounds for the potential treatment of lysosomal glycosphingolipid storage disorders and viral infections, respectively. Copyright (C) 2000.

Original publication




Journal article


Tetrahedron Asymmetry

Publication Date





113 - 124