Phenotypic cell-based screening is a powerful approach to small-molecule discovery, but a major challenge of this strategy lies in determining the intracellular target and mechanism of action (MoA) for validated hits. Here, we show that the small-molecule BRD0476, a novel suppressor of pancreatic β-cell apoptosis, inhibits interferon-gamma (IFN-γ)-induced Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) and signal transducer and activation of transcription 1 (STAT1) signaling to promote β-cell survival. However, unlike common JAK-STAT pathway inhibitors, BRD0476 inhibits JAK-STAT signaling without suppressing the kinase activity of any JAK. Rather, we identified the deubiquitinase ubiquitin-specific peptidase 9X (USP9X) as an intracellular target, using a quantitative proteomic analysis in rat β cells. RNAi-mediated and CRISPR/Cas9 knockdown mimicked the effects of BRD0476, and reverse chemical genetics using a known inhibitor of USP9X blocked JAK-STAT signaling without suppressing JAK activity. Site-directed mutagenesis of a putative ubiquitination site on JAK2 mitigated BRD0476 activity, suggesting a competition between phosphorylation and ubiquitination to explain small-molecule MoA. These results demonstrate that phenotypic screening, followed by comprehensive MoA efforts, can provide novel mechanistic insights into ostensibly well-understood cell signaling pathways. Furthermore, these results uncover USP9X as a potential target for regulating JAK2 activity in cellular inflammation
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