Rajesh Khanna
Professor, Anesthesiology
Professor, BIO5 Institute
Professor, Neuroscience - GIDP
Professor, Pharmacology
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 626-4281
Work Summary
The focus of my laboratory’s’ research is to understand how ion channels, specifically, voltage-gated calcium and sodium channels, are regulated by novel protein interactions. Recent studies in my laboratory have focused on targeting protein-protein interactions with biologics (peptide aptamers) and small molecules; testing the activity of these novel chemical entities in biochemical and immunofluorescent-based assays of trafficking; examining their protein interaction signatures; testing them with whole cell voltage-clamp electrophysiology and voltage- and calcium sensitive fluorescence-based imaging. Regulating these protein networks to modulate the activity of ion channels in neurodegenerative diseases (Chronic Pain, Migraine, and Neurofibromatosis) is a key focus of the laboratory.
Research Interest
Regulation of Trafficking and Functions of Voltage-Gated Sodium and Calcium Channels; Identification of Novel Protein Regulators of Ion channels; Approaches to Targeting the Ion Channel Complexes in Neuropathic Pain and Neurodegenerative Diseases; Discovery of Novel Biologics and Small Molecules Targeting Pain and Neurodegenerative Diseases


Khanna, R., Lee, E. J., & Papazian, D. M. (2004). Transient calnexin interaction confers long-term stability on folded K+ channel protein in the ER. Journal of cell science, 117(Pt 14), 2897-908.

We recently showed that an unglycosylated form of the Shaker potassium channel protein is retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and degraded by proteasomes in mammalian cells despite apparently normal folding and assembly. These results suggest that channel proteins with a native structure can be substrates for ER-associated degradation. We have now tested this hypothesis using the wild-type Shaker protein. Wild-type Shaker is degraded by cytoplasmic proteasomes when it is trapped in the ER and prevented from interacting with calnexin. Neither condition alone is sufficient to destabilize the protein. Proteasomal degradation of the wild-type protein is abolished when ER mannosidase I trimming of the core glycan is inhibited. Our results indicate that transient interaction with calnexin provides long-term protection from ER-associated degradation.

Chi, X. X., Schmutzler, B. S., Brittain, J. M., Wang, Y., Hingtgen, C. M., Nicol, G. D., & Khanna, R. (2009). Regulation of N-type voltage-gated calcium channels (Cav2.2) and transmitter release by collapsin response mediator protein-2 (CRMP-2) in sensory neurons. Journal of cell science, 122(Pt 23), 4351-62.

Collapsin response mediator proteins (CRMPs) mediate signal transduction of neurite outgrowth and axonal guidance during neuronal development. Voltage-gated Ca(2+) channels and interacting proteins are essential in neuronal signaling and synaptic transmission during this period. We recently identified the presynaptic N-type voltage-gated Ca(2+) channel (Cav2.2) as a CRMP-2-interacting partner. Here, we investigated the effects of a functional association of CRMP-2 with Cav2.2 in sensory neurons. Cav2.2 colocalized with CRMP-2 at immature synapses and growth cones, in mature synapses and in cell bodies of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. Co-immunoprecipitation experiments showed that CRMP-2 associates with Cav2.2 from DRG lysates. Overexpression of CRMP-2 fused to enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) in DRG neurons, via nucleofection, resulted in a significant increase in Cav2.2 current density compared with cells expressing EGFP. CRMP-2 manipulation changed the surface levels of Cav2.2. Because CRMP-2 is localized to synaptophysin-positive puncta in dense DRG cultures, we tested whether this CRMP-2-mediated alteration of Ca(2+) currents culminated in changes in synaptic transmission. Following a brief high-K(+)-induced stimulation, these puncta became loaded with FM4-64 dye. In EGFP and neurons expressing CRMP-2-EGFP, similar densities of FM-loaded puncta were observed. Finally, CRMP-2 overexpression in DRG increased release of the immunoreactive neurotransmitter calcitonin gene-related peptide (iCGRP) by approximately 70%, whereas siRNA targeting CRMP-2 significantly reduced release of iCGRP by approximately 54% compared with control cultures. These findings support a novel role for CRMP-2 in the regulation of N-type Ca(2+) channels and in transmitter release.

Mani, T., Wang, F., Knabe, W. E., Sinn, A. L., Khanna, M., Jo, I., Sandusky, G. E., Sledge, G. W., Jones, D. R., Khanna, R., Pollok, K. E., & Meroueh, S. O. (2013). Small-molecule inhibition of the uPAR·uPA interaction: synthesis, biochemical, cellular, in vivo pharmacokinetics and efficacy studies in breast cancer metastasis. Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry, 21(7), 2145-55.

The uPAR·uPA protein-protein interaction (PPI) is involved in signaling and proteolytic events that promote tumor invasion and metastasis. A previous study had identified 4 (IPR-803) from computational screening of a commercial chemical library and shown that the compound inhibited uPAR·uPA PPI in competition biochemical assays and invasion cellular studies. Here, we synthesize 4 to evaluate in vivo pharmacokinetic (PK) and efficacy studies in a murine breast cancer metastasis model. First, we show, using fluorescence polarization and saturation transfer difference (STD) NMR, that 4 binds directly to uPAR with sub-micromolar affinity of 0.2 μM. We show that 4 blocks invasion of breast MDA-MB-231, and inhibits matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) breakdown of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Derivatives of 4 also inhibited MMP activity and blocked invasion in a concentration-dependent manner. Compound 4 also impaired MDA-MB-231 cell adhesion and migration. Extensive in vivo PK studies in NOD-SCID mice revealed a half-life of nearly 5h and peak concentration of 5 μM. Similar levels of the inhibitor were detected in tumor tissue up to 10h. Female NSG mice inoculated with highly malignant TMD-MDA-MB-231 in their mammary fat pads showed that 4 impaired metastasis to the lungs with only four of the treated mice showing severe or marked metastasis compared to ten for the untreated mice. Compound 4 is a promising template for the development of compounds with enhanced PK parameters and greater efficacy.

Brittain, J. M., Duarte, D. B., Wilson, S. M., Zhu, W., Ballard, C., Johnson, P. L., Liu, N., Xiong, W., Ripsch, M. S., Wang, Y., Fehrenbacher, J. C., Fitz, S. D., Khanna, M., Park, C., Schmutzler, B. S., Cheon, B. M., Due, M. R., Brustovetsky, T., Ashpole, N. M., , Hudmon, A., et al. (2011). Suppression of inflammatory and neuropathic pain by uncoupling CRMP-2 from the presynaptic Ca²⁺ channel complex. Nature medicine, 17(7), 822-9.

The use of N-type voltage-gated calcium channel (CaV2.2) blockers to treat pain is limited by many physiological side effects. Here we report that inflammatory and neuropathic hypersensitivity can be suppressed by inhibiting the binding of collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP-2) to CaV2.2 and thereby reducing channel function. A peptide of CRMP-2 fused to the HIV transactivator of transcription (TAT) protein (TAT-CBD3) decreased neuropeptide release from sensory neurons and excitatory synaptic transmission in dorsal horn neurons, reduced meningeal blood flow, reduced nocifensive behavior induced by formalin injection or corneal capsaicin application and reversed neuropathic hypersensitivity produced by an antiretroviral drug. TAT-CBD3 was mildly anxiolytic without affecting memory retrieval, sensorimotor function or depression. At doses tenfold higher than that required to reduce hypersensitivity in vivo, TAT-CBD3 caused a transient episode of tail kinking and body contortion. By preventing CRMP-2-mediated enhancement of CaV2.2 function, TAT-CBD3 alleviated inflammatory and neuropathic hypersensitivity, an approach that may prove useful in managing chronic pain.

Brustovetsky, T., Pellman, J. J., Yang, X., Khanna, R., & Brustovetsky, N. (2014). Collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP2) interacts with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor and Na+/Ca2+ exchanger and regulates their functional activity. The Journal of biological chemistry, 289(11), 7470-82.

Collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP2) is traditionally viewed as an axonal growth protein involved in axon/dendrite specification. Here, we describe novel functions of CRMP2. A 15-amino acid peptide from CRMP2, fused to the TAT cell-penetrating motif of the HIV-1 protein, TAT-CBD3, but not CBD3 without TAT, attenuated N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) activity and protected neurons against glutamate-induced Ca(2+) dysregulation, suggesting the key contribution of CRMP2 in these processes. In addition, TAT-CBD3, but not CBD3 without TAT or TAT-scramble peptide, inhibited increases in cytosolic Ca(2+) mediated by the plasmalemmal Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchanger (NCX) operating in the reverse mode. Co-immunoprecipitation experiments revealed an interaction between CRMP2 and NMDAR as well as NCX3 but not NCX1. TAT-CBD3 disrupted CRMP2-NMDAR interaction without change in NMDAR localization. In contrast, TAT-CBD3 augmented the CRMP2-NCX3 co-immunoprecipitation, indicating increased interaction or stabilization of a complex between these proteins. Immunostaining with an anti-NCX3 antibody revealed that TAT-CBD3 induced NCX3 internalization, suggesting that both reverse and forward modes of NCX might be affected. Indeed, the forward mode of NCX, evaluated in experiments with ionomycin-induced Ca(2+) influx into neurons, was strongly suppressed by TAT-CBD3. Knockdown of CRMP2 with short interfering RNA (siRNA) prevented NCX3 internalization in response to TAT-CBD3 exposure. Moreover, CRMP2 down-regulation strongly attenuated TAT-CBD3-induced inhibition of reverse NCX. Overall, our results demonstrate that CRMP2 interacts with NCX and NMDAR and that TAT-CBD3 protects against glutamate-induced Ca(2+) dysregulation most likely via suppression of both NMDAR and NCX activities. Our results further clarify the mechanism of action of TAT-CBD3 and identify a novel regulatory checkpoint for NMDAR and NCX function based on CRMP2 interaction with these proteins.