Protein methyltransferases (PMTs) are enzymes involved in epigenetic mechanisms, DNA repair, and other cellular machineries critical to cellular identity and function, and are an important target class in chemical biology and drug discovery. Central to the enzymatic reaction is the transfer of a methyl group from the cofactor S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) to a substrate protein. Here we review how the essentiality of SAM for catalysis is exploited by chemical inhibitors. Occupying the cofactor binding pocket to compete with SAM can be hindered by the hydrophilic nature of this site, but structural studies of compounds now in the clinic revealed that inhibitors could either occupy juxtaposed pockets to overlap minimally, but sufficiently with the bound cofactor, or induce large conformational remodeling leading to a more druggable binding site. Rather than competing with the cofactor, other inhibitors compete with the substrate and rely on bound SAM, either to allosterically stabilize the substrate binding site, or for direct SAM-inhibitor interactions.
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