Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry

L.M. Viranga Tillekeratne, D.Phil.

Associate Professor
Department of Medicinal Chemistry

B.S., 1969 University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
D.Phil., 1975 Oxford University
Postdoctoral Research Associate, 1982 University of Oklahoma
Research Interests

My lab is interested in the study of small molecule probes of both synthetic and natural origin to study protein function as a basis for drug design and drug discovery. This involves synthesis of biologically active natural products and their analogues and structural optimization of natural products for improving pharmacological properties. We are also interested in the development of redox-active electrocatalysts to be used in electrochemical sensors to detect thiols.

Study of small molecule probes for drug design

Two bioactive natural products that we are currently focusing on are epothilones and largazole.


Epothilones are a group of anticancer natural products with a mechanism of action similar to that of paclitaxel (taxol). Due to their superior properties over paclitaxel, including resistance to multi-drug resistant cancer cell lines, epothilones have become important target molecules in anticancer research. We are currently investigating a class of structurally and conformationally-constrained epothilone analogues and a class of open-chain epothilones. We believe that the structurally-constrained epothilone analogues we have designed will provide information on the bioactive conformation of epothilone, and also will lead to analogues of improved pharmacological profile. We have already synthesized several of these analogues by a multi-step convergent synthetic strategy. Several other analogues are being synthesized. We are also synthesizing a new class of open-chain epothilone analogues in which a small molecular scaffold holds together key fragments of the molecule necessary for biological activity. We are currently developing a library of these open-chain epothilone analogues for structure-activity (SAR) studies.


Largazole is a very potent and selective antiproliferative agent recently isolated from a marine cyanobacterium. It is a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor. HDACs are a class of metalloenzymes responsible for the hydrolysis of the acetyl group from lysine residues in histone proteins, leading to transcriptionally inactive condensed forms of chromatin. They are being extensively investigated as targets for epigenetic regulation or changing gene expression without changing DNA sequence for treating human disorders. HDACs are linked to cellular events such as proliferation, cell-cycle regulation, differentiation and induction of apoptosis. Aberrant HDAC activity is implicated in a number of human disorders including cancer, inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiac hypertrophy and neurodegenerative diseases. HDACs also deacetylate non-histone proteins such as hormone receptors, transcription factors, molecular chaperone proteins and cytoskeletal proteins and modify their roles in cellular functions. However, the precise role of individual HDAC isoforms in cell function and pathology of disease is not well understood. A major priority in HDAC research is the development of isoform-selective HDAC inhibitors. Isoform selective HDAC inhibitors will be useful as tools to decipher the role of individual isoforms in biochemical processes and cellular function and also to increase the therapeutic potential of HDAC inhibitors by reducing undesirable side effects.

The recently isolated HDAC inhibitor largazole possesses remarkable selective activity against cancer cells compared to normal cells. We are synthesizing a series of structural analogues of largazole by modifying its depsipeptide core, which interacts with the hydrophobic rim of the active site of histone deacetylase, and its thiol side chain, which constitutes the metal-binding domain, for SAR studies as well as to develop isoform-selective HDAC inhibitors of higher potency. The largazole analogues synthesized are tested for their anticancer, neuroprotective, cardioprotective anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties

Development of molecular probes for sensors

We are developing redox-active molecular probes to be used as electrocatalysts in sensors to detect thiols and neurotoxins electrochemically. This is a collaborative project with Dr. Jon R. Kirchhoff of the Department of Chemistry, Universityof Toledo. Following on the success of our first generation electrodes with entrapped quinones as electrocatalysts, we are now synthesizing quinone-capped molecular wires to be used in our second generation thiol sensors, in order to overcome some of the drawbacks of the first generation sensors.

Representative Publications
  1. Tillekeratne L. M. V., Sherette A., Fulmer J. A., Hupe L., Hupe D., Gabbara S., Hudson R. A. Differential inhibition of polymerase and strand-transfer activities of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase. Bioorg Med Chem Lett.2002, 12(4), 525-528.
  2. Fouchard D., Tillekeratne L. M. V., and Hudson R. A. An efficient one-pot synthesis of aminobenzimidazoles avoiding a troublesome acetonitrile-mediated reductive ethylation reaction. Synthesis,2005, 17-18.
  3. Nacario R., Kotakonda S., Fouchard D. M., Tillekeratne L. M V., Hudson R. A. Reductive monoalkylation of aromatic and aliphatic nitro compounds and the corresponding amines with nitriles. Org Lett.2005, 7(3), 471-474.
  4. Alhamadsheh M., Hudson R. A., Tillekeratne L. M. V. Design, total synthesis, and evaluation of novel open-chain epothilone analogues. Org Lett.2006, 8(4), 685-688.
  5. Cai S., Mukherjee J., Tillekeratne L. M. V., Hudson R. A., Kirchhoff J. R. Inhibition of choline transport by redox-active cholinomimetic bis-catechol reagents. Bioorg Med Chem. 2007, 15(22), 7042-7047
  6. Gupta, S., Alhamadsheh, M., Rajagopalan, M., Tillekeratne, L. M. V., Hudson, R. A. A total stereospecific synthesis of gonioheptolide A, Synthesis. 2007, 3512-3518.
  7. Alhamadsheh M., Gupta S., Hudson R. A., Perera L., Tillekeratne L. M. V. Total synthesis and selective activity of a new class of conformationally restrained epothilones. Chem. – A Euro.  J. 2008, 14(2):570-581.
  8. Barkhimer T. V., Kirchhoff J. R., Hudson R. A., Messer W. S., Jr., Tillekeratne L. M. V. Electrochemical detection of acetylcholine and choline: application to the quantitative nonradiochemical evaluation of choline transport. Anal Bioanal Chem.2008, 392(4), 651-662.
  9. Gupta S., Poeppelman L., Hinman C. L., Bretz J., Hudson R. A., Tillekeratne L. M. V. Apoptotic activities in closely related styryllactone stereoisomers toward human tumor cell lines: Investigation of synergism of styryllactone-induced apoptosis with TRAIL. Bioorg Med Chem.2010, 18(2), 849-854.
  10. WendlandT. R.,  Muntean B. S., Kaur J., MukherjeeJ., Chen, J., Tan X., Attygalle D., Collins R. W., Kirchhoff J. R.,  Tillekeratne L. M. V. In situ self assembly of thiolated ortho-quinone capped electrocatalysts for bioanalytical applications. Electroanalysis, 2011, 23(10), 2275-2279.
  11. Bhansali, P., Hanigan, C. L., Casero, R. A. Jr. and Tillekeratne, L. M. V. Largazole and analogues with modified metal-binding motifs targeting histone deacetylases: Synthesis and biological evaluation. J. Med. Chem.2011, 54, 7453-7463.
  12. Gégout, C., McAtee, M. L., Bennett, N. M., Tillekeratne, L. M. V.,  Kirchhoff, J. R., Synthesis and Characterization of Luminescent Cadmium Selenide/Zinc Selenide/Zinc Sulfide Cholinomimetic Quantum Dots, Nanoscale, 2012, 4, 4719-4725.
  13. Almaliti, J., Nada, S. E., Carter, B., Shah, Z. A.,Tillekeratne, L. M. V. , Natural Products Inspired Synthesis of Neuroprotective Agents Against H2O2-Induced Cell Death, Bioorg. Medchem. Lett.2013, 23, 1232-1237.
  14. Ahmed, S., Riegsecker, S., Beamer, M., Rahman, A., Bellini, J. V.,  Bhansali, P.  and Tillekeratne, L. M. V. Largazole, a class I histone deacetylase inhibitor, synergizes with TNF-α to induce ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 expression in Rheumatoid Arthritis Synovial Fibroblasts. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol.2013, 270, 87-96.
  15. Keith, A., Kosik, S. D., Tillekeratne, L. M. V. and Mason, M.R. Iron-Tagged Phosphines as Ligands for Suzuki coupling of Aryl Halides in a Phosphonium Ionic Liquid. Synlett. 2014, 25, 977-982.
  16. Bhansali, P., Hanigan, C. L., Perera, L., Casero, R. A. Jr. and Tillekeratne, L. M. V. Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Largazole Analogues with Modified Surface Recognition Cap Groups. Eur. J. . Med. Chem.2014, 86, 528-541.
  17. Mock, K. L., Tillekeratne, L. M. V., Kirchhoff, J. R. Synthesis and characterization of water soluble choline labeled cadmium selenide/zinc selenide/zinc sulfide luminescent quantum dots. Inorg. Chem. Commun. 2015, 60, 87-90.
  18. Young, J. A., Zhang, C., Devasurendra, A. M., Tillekeratne, L. M. V., Anderson, J. L., Kirchhoff, J. R. Conductive polymeric ionic liquids for electroanalysis and solid-phase microextraction. Anal. Chim. Acta. 2016, 910, 45-52.
  19. Csábi,J., Martins, A.,  Sinka, I., Csorba, A., Molnár, J., Zupkó, I, Tóth, G., Tillekeratne, L. M. V. and A. Hunyadi, A. Synthesis and in vitro evaluation of the antitumor potential and chemo-sensitizing activity of fluorinated ecdysteroid derivatives, Med. Chem. Commun. 2016, 7, 2282-2289. 
  20.  Almaliti, J., Al-Hamashi, A. A., Negmeldin, A. T., Hanigan, C. L., Perera, L., Pflum, M. K. H., Casero, Jr, R. A. and Tillekeratne, L. M. V. Largazole Analogues Embodying Radical Changes in the Depsipeptide Ring: Development of a More Selective and Highly Potent Analogue, J. Med.Chem. 2016, 59, 10642-10660.
Last Updated: 2/21/17