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



Biological, genetic, and clinical data provide compelling proof for N-type voltage-gated calcium channels (CaV2.2) as therapeutic targets for chronic pain. While decreasing channel function is ultimately anti-nociceptive, directly targeting the channel can lead to multiple adverse effects. Targeting regulators of channel activity may facilitate improved analgesic properties associated with channel block and afford a broader therapeutic window. Towards this end, we recently identified a short peptide, designated CBD3, derived from collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP-2) that suppressed inflammatory and neuropathic hypersensitivity by inhibiting CRMP-2 binding to CaV2.2 [Brittain et al., Nature Medicine 17:822-829 (2011)]. Rodents administered CBD3 intraperitoneally, fused to the HIV TAT protein cell penetrating domain, exhibited antinociception lasting ~4 hours highlighting potential instability, limited oral bioavailability, and/or rapid elimination of peptide. This report focuses on improving upon the parental CBD3 peptide. Using SPOTScan analysis of synthetic versions of the parental CBD3 peptide, we identified peptides harboring single amino acid mutations that bound with greater affinity to CaV2.2. One such peptide, harboring a phenylalanine instead of glycine (G14F), was tested in rodent models of migraine and neuropathic pain. In vivo laser Doppler blood flowmetry measure of capsaicin-induced meningeal vascular responses related to headache pain was almost completely suppressed by dural application of the G14F peptide. The G14F mutant peptide, administered intraperitoneally, also exhibited greater antinociception in Stavudine (2'-3'-didehydro-2'-3'-dideoxythymidine (d4T)/Zerit®) model of AIDS therapy-induced peripheral neuropathy compared to the parent CBD3 peptide. These results demonstrate the patent translational value of small biologic drugs targeting CaV2.2 for management of clinical pain.

Wilson, S. M., Moutal, A., Melemedjian, O. K., Wang, Y., Ju, W., François-Moutal, L., Khanna, M., & Khanna, R. (2014). The functionalized amino acid (S)-Lacosamide subverts CRMP2-mediated tubulin polymerization to prevent constitutive and activity-dependent increase in neurite outgrowth. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 8, 196.

Activity-dependent neurite outgrowth is a highly complex, regulated process with important implications for neuronal circuit remodeling in development as well as in seizure-induced sprouting in epilepsy. Recent work has linked outgrowth to collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP2), an intracellular phosphoprotein originally identified as axon guidance and growth cone collapse protein. The neurite outgrowth promoting function of CRMP2 is regulated by its phosphorylation state. In this study, depolarization (potassium chloride)-driven activity increased the level of active CRMP2 by decreasing its phosphorylation by GSK3β via a reduction in priming by Cdk5. To determine the contribution of CRMP2 in activity-driven neurite outgrowth, we screened a limited set of compounds for their ability to reduce neurite outgrowth but not modify voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC) biophysical properties. This led to the identification of (S)-lacosamide ((S)-LCM), a stereoisomer of the clinically used antiepileptic drug (R)-LCM (Vimpat®), as a novel tool for preferentially targeting CRMP2-mediated neurite outgrowth. Whereas (S)-LCM was ineffective in targeting VGSCs, the presumptive pharmacological targets of (R)-LCM, (S)-LCM was more efficient than (R)-LCM in subverting neurite outgrowth. Biomolecular interaction analyses revealed that (S)-LCM bound to wildtype CRMP2 with low micromolar affinity, similar to (R)-LCM. Through the use of this novel tool, the activity-dependent increase in neurite outgrowth observed following depolarization was characterized to be reliant on CRMP2 function. Knockdown of CRMP2 by siRNA in cortical neurons resulted in reduced CRMP2-dependent neurite outgrowth; incubation with (S)-LCM phenocopied this effect. Other CRMP2-mediated processes were unaffected. (S)-LCM subverted neurite outgrowth not by affecting the canonical CRMP2-tubulin association but rather by impairing the ability of CRMP2 to promote tubulin polymerization, events that are perfunctory for neurite outgrowth. Taken together, these results suggest that changes in the phosphorylation state of CRMP2 are a major contributing factor in activity-dependent regulation of neurite outgrowth.

Moutal, A., Li, W., Wang, Y., Ju, W., Luo, S., Cai, S., François-Moutal, L., Perez-Miller, S., Hu, J., Dustrude, E. T., Vanderah, T. W., Gokhale, V., Khanna, M., & Khanna, R. (2017). Homology-guided mutational analysis reveals the functional requirements for antinociceptive specificity of collapsin response mediator protein 2-derived peptides. British journal of pharmacology.

N-type voltage-gated calcium (Cav 2.2) channels are critical determinants of increased neuronal excitability and neurotransmission accompanying persistent neuropathic pain. Although Cav 2.2 channel antagonists are recommended as first-line treatment for neuropathic pain, calcium-current blocking gabapentinoids inadequately alleviate chronic pain symptoms and often exhibit numerous side effects. Collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP2) targets Cav 2.2 channels to the sensory neuron membrane and allosterically modulates their function. A 15-amino-acid peptide (CBD3), derived from CRMP2, disrupts the functional protein-protein interaction between CRMP2 and Cav 2.2 channels to inhibit calcium influx, transmitter release and acute, inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Here, we have mapped the minimal domain of CBD3 necessary for its antinociceptive potential.

Torregrosa, R., Yang, X. F., Dustrude, E. T., Cummins, T. R., Khanna, R., & Kohn, H. (2015). Chimeric derivatives of functionalized amino acids and α-aminoamides: compounds with anticonvulsant activity in seizure models and inhibitory actions on central, peripheral, and cardiac isoforms of voltage-gated sodium channels. Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry, 23(13), 3655-66.

Six novel 3″-substituted (R)-N-(phenoxybenzyl) 2-N-acetamido-3-methoxypropionamides were prepared and then assessed using whole-cell, patch-clamp electrophysiology for their anticonvulsant activities in animal seizure models and for their sodium channel activities. We found compounds with various substituents at the terminal aromatic ring that had excellent anticonvulsant activity. Of these compounds, (R)-N-4'-((3″-chloro)phenoxy)benzyl 2-N-acetamido-3-methoxypropionamide ((R)-5) and (R)-N-4'-((3″-trifluoromethoxy)phenoxy)benzyl 2-N-acetamido-3-methoxypropionamide ((R)-9) exhibited high protective indices (PI=TD50/ED50) comparable with many antiseizure drugs when tested in the maximal electroshock seizure test to mice (intraperitoneally) and rats (intraperitoneally, orally). Most compounds potently transitioned sodium channels to the slow-inactivated state when evaluated in rat embryonic cortical neurons. Treating HEK293 recombinant cells that expressed hNaV1.1, rNaV1.3, hNaV1.5, or hNaV1.7 with (R)-9 recapitulated the high levels of sodium channel slow inactivation.

Wilson, S. M., Brittain, J. M., Piekarz, A. D., Ballard, C. J., Ripsch, M. S., Cummins, T. R., Hurley, J. H., Khanna, M., Hammes, N. M., Samuels, B. C., White, F. A., & Khanna, R. (2015). Further insights into the antinociceptive potential of a peptide disrupting the N-type calcium channel-CRMP-2 signaling complex. Channels (Austin, Tex.), 5(5), 449-56.

The N-type voltage-gated calcium channel (Cav 2.2) has gained immense prominence in the treatment of chronic pain. While decreased channel function is ultimately anti-nociceptive, directly targeting the channel can lead to multiple adverse side effects. Targeting modulators of channel activity may facilitate improved analgesic properties associated with channel block and a broader therapeutic window. A novel interaction between Cav 2.2 and collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP-2) positively regulates channel function by increasing surface trafficking. We recently identified a CRMP-2 peptide (TAT-CBD3), which effectively blocks this interaction, reduces or completely reverses pain behavior in a number of inflammatory and neuropathic models. Importantly, TAT-CBD3 did not produce many of the typical side effects often observed with Cav 2.2 inhibitors. Notably chronic pain mechanisms offer unique challenges as they often encompass a mix of both neuropathic and inflammatory elements, whereby inflammation likely causes damage to the neuron leading to neuropathic pain, and neuronal injury may produce inflammatory reactions. To this end, we sought to further disseminate the ability of TAT-CBD3 to alter behavioral outcomes in two additional rodent pain models. While we observed that TAT-CBD3 reversed mechanical hypersensitivity associated with a model of chronic inflammatory pain due to lysophosphotidylcholine-induced sciatic nerve focal demyelination (LPC), injury to the tibial nerve (TNI) failed to respond to drug treatment. Moreover, a single amino acid mutation within the CBD3 sequence demonstrated amplified Cav 2.2 binding and dramatically increased efficacy in an animal model of migraine. Taken together, TAT-CBD3 potentially represents a novel class of therapeutics targeting channel regulation as opposed to the channel itself.