Expanding the ligandable E3 ubiquitin ligases for targeted protein degradation

   School of Life Sciences

  Prof Gopal Sapkota, Dr Satpal Virdee  Sunday, June 30, 2024  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Out of more than 600 E3 ubiquitin ligases in cells, currently only a handful have small molecule binders that can be used for PROteolysis Targeting Chimeras (PROTACs) and harnessed for targeted protein degradation. PROTACs are bivalent small molecules, i.e. they contain two moieties: one binds a target protein and the other binds an E3 ubiquitin ligase, which marks the target protein for destruction. In this way, PROTACs can bring two proteins that naturally do not interact with each other into proximity. With the new-found proximity, the E3 ligase can put ubiquitin on its new neighbour, thereby marking it for degradation by the cellular protein waste disposal machinery called the proteasome. PROTAC-mediated degradation of target proteins is a new approach of targeting disease-relevant proteins that are difficult to target with conventional drugs or small molecules. Therefore, the development of PROTACs is a rapidly growing area of research. Additionally, not every E3 ligase can target every protein recruited via PROTACs for degradation, and there have been reports of cancer cells developing a resistance to PROTACs via mutations in E3 ligases. Therefore, the expansion of the PROTAC toolbox by identification and inclusion of novel E3 ligase recruiting molecules is an important and critical step in targeted protein degradation. With this project, we seek to identify short protein sequences (peptides) capable of recruiting E3 ligases, determine the molecular mechanisms of the interactions and exploit the findings for potential use in novel PROTAC development. We have already analysed several novel E3 ligases for their ability to degrade different target proteins and have found a set of four E3 ligases which can efficiently target proteins in different subcellular locations. The aim now to identify natural interactors or substrates of these E3 ligases by interaction studies and narrow down the shortest part of the interacting proteins needed for this interaction. From this, a common sequence with high affinity towards the respective E3 ligase would be determined, and in turn exploited for proximity-driven target protein degradation using the Affinity-directed PROtein Missile (AdPROM) system that our lab has developed. If validated, the peptide binders will be taken further to develop potential warheads of E3 ligases to use in PROTAC molecules.

For more information about the Sapkota Laboratory: https://sites.dundee.ac.uk/sapkota-lab/

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Professor Gopal Sapkota ()

For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact

Our research community thrives on the diversity of students and staff which helps to make the University of Dundee a UK university of choice for postgraduate research. We welcome applications from all talented individuals and are committed to widening access to those who have the ability and potential to benefit from higher education.


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK in a relevant discipline.

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 5.5 in each of the four components). The University of Dundee accepts a variety of equivalent qualifications; please see full details of the University’s English language requirements here: www.dundee.ac.uk/guides/english-language-requirements.


Step 1: Email Professor Gopal Sapkota () to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Professor Sapkota, please complete the School of Life Science’s pre-application process:

Life sciences : Study : University of Dundee

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses, via external sponsorship or self-funding.


1. Simpson LM, Macartney TJ, Nardin A, Fulcher LJ, Röth S, Testa A, Maniaci C, Ciulli A, Ganley IG, & Sapkota GP (2020). Inducible Degradation of Target Proteins through a Tractable Affinity-Directed Protein Missile System. Cell Chem Biol. 2020 Jul 3: S2451-9456(20)30236-1. doi: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2020.06.013. Online ahead of print. (PMID: 32668203)
2. Röth S, Macartney TJ, Konopacka A, Chan KH, Zhou H, Queisser MA, & Sapkota GP (2020). Targeting Endogenous K-RAS for Degradation through the Affinity-Directed Protein Missile System. Cell Chem Biol. 2020 Jul 3: S2451-9456(20)30235-X. doi: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2020.06.012. Online ahead of print. (PMID: 32668202)
3. Röth S, Fulcher LJ, Sapkota GP (2019) Advances in targeted degradation of endogenous proteins. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2019 Apr 27. doi: 10.1007/s00018-019-03112-6.
4. Fulcher, L. J., Macartney, T. J., Turnbull, C., Hutchinson, L., and Sapkota, G. P. (2017) Targeting endogenous proteins for degradation through the affinity-directed protein missile system. Open biology, 7: 170066.
5. Fulcher, L. J., Macartney, T., Bozatzi, P., Hornberger, A., Rojas-Fernandez, A., and Sapkota, G. P. (2016) An affinity-directed protein missile system for targeted proteolysis. Open biology, 6: 160255

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