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The anti-cancer agent Indisulam inhibits cell proliferation by causing degradation of RBM39, an essential mRNA splicing factor. Indisulam promotes an interaction between RBM39 and the DCAF15 E3 ligase substrate receptor leading to RBM39 ubiquitination and proteasome-mediated degradation. To delineate the precise mechanism by which Indisulam mediates DCAF15-RBM39 interaction, we solved the DCAF15-DDB1-DDA1-Indisulam-RBM39(RRM2) complex structure to 2.3 Angstroms. DCAF15 has a novel topology which embraces the RBM39(RRM2) domain largely via nonpolar interactions, and Indisulam binds between DCAF15 and RBM39(RRM2) and coordinates additional interactions between the two proteins. Studies with RBM39 point mutants and Indisulam analogs validated the structural model and defined the RBM39 alpha-helical degron motif. The degron is found only in RBM23 and RBM39 and only these proteins were detectably downregulated in Indisulam-treated HCT116 cells. This work further explains how Indisulam induces RBM39 degradation and defines the challenge of harnessing DCAF15 to degrade novel targets.

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