One of the keys to understanding lifelong health is to understand the signalling pathways that operate inside cells and govern key fate decisions such as cell death, cell survival, cell division or cell senescence (collectively cell longevity). These signalling pathways involve enzymes called ‘protein kinases’ that attach phosphate groups to specific cellular proteins, thereby controlling their activity, location or abundance. In this way protein kinases orchestrate the cellular response to growth factors, nutrient availability or stress and damage.
Ageing results in part from the imbalance between cellular damage, accrued throughout life, and the progressive decline in stress response and repair pathways. We are interested in how protein kinases function in stress responses, the removal of damaged cellular components (e.g. autophagy, see also Nicholas Ktistakis and Oliver Florey) and the control of cellular lifespan. We believe this will enhance our understanding of how the normal declines in these processes drive ageing.
Signalling pathways are frequently de-regulated in certain age-related diseases – notably in cancer, inflammation and neurodegeneration – and many protein kinases are attractive drug targets. Consequently we translate our basic knowledge of signalling through collaborations with charities and pharmaceutical companies (e.g. AstraZeneca and MISSION Therapeutics).
The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway is frequently de-regulated in human cancer. Melanoma in particular exhibits a high incidence of activating BRAF and NRAS mutations and such cells are addicted to the activity of these mutant oncoproteins. As a result three different BRAF inhibitors (BRAFi) have now been approved for BRAFV600E/K- mutant melanoma and have transformed the treatment of this disease. Despite this, clinical responses are typically transient as tumour cells develop resistance. These resistance mechanisms frequently involve reinstatement of ERK1/2 signalling and BRAFi are now deployed in combination with one of three approved MEK1/2 inhibitors (MEKi) to provide more durable, but still transient, clinical responses. Furthermore, inhibitors to ERK1/2 (ERK1/2i) have also been developed to counteract ERK1/2 signalling. However, recent studies have suggested that BRAFi/MEKi and ERK1/2i resistance can arise through activation of a parallel signalling pathway leading to activation of ERK5, an unusual protein kinase that contains both a kinase domain and a transcriptional transactivation domain. Here we review the evidence supporting ERK5 as a mediator of BRAFi/MEKi and ERK1/2i resistance. We also review the challenges in targeting ERK5 signalling with small molecules, including paradoxical activation of the transcriptional transactivation domain, and discuss new therapeutic modalities that could be employed to target ERK5.
The nonclassical extracellular signal-related kinase 5 (ERK5) mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway has been implicated in increased cellular proliferation, migration, survival, and angiogenesis; hence, ERK5 inhibition may be an attractive approach for cancer treatment. However, the development of selective ERK5 inhibitors has been challenging. Previously, we described the development of a pyrrole carboxamide high-throughput screening hit into a selective, submicromolar inhibitor of ERK5 kinase activity. Improvement in the ERK5 potency was necessary for the identification of a tool ERK5 inhibitor for target validation studies. Herein, we describe the optimization of this series to identify nanomolar pyrrole carboxamide inhibitors of ERK5 incorporating a basic center, which suffered from poor oral bioavailability. Parallel optimization of potency and pharmacokinetic parameters led to the identification of a nonbasic pyrazole analogue with an optimal balance of ERK5 inhibition and oral exposure.
Inhibitor of kappa B (IκB) kinase β (IKKβ) has long been viewed as the dominant IKK in the canonical nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) signalling pathway, with IKKα being more important in non-canonical NF-κB activation. Here we have investigated the role of IKKα and IKKβ in canonical NF-κB activation in colorectal cells using CRISPR-Cas9 knock-out cell lines, siRNA and selective IKKβ inhibitors. IKKα and IKKβ were redundant for IκBα phosphorylation and turnover since loss of IKKα or IKKβ alone had little (SW620 cells) or no (HCT116 cells) effect. However, in HCT116 cells IKKα was the dominant IKK required for basal phosphorylation of p65 at S536, stimulated phosphorylation of p65 at S468, nuclear translocation of p65 and the NF-κB-dependent transcriptional response to both TNFα and IL-1α. In these cells IKKβ was far less efficient at compensating for the loss of IKKα than IKKα was able to compensate for the loss of IKKβ. This was confirmed when siRNA was used to knock-down the non-targeted kinase in single KO cells. Critically, the selective IKKβ inhibitor BIX02514 confirmed these observations in WT cells and similar results were seen in SW620 cells. Notably, whilst IKKα loss strongly inhibited TNFα-dependent p65 nuclear translocation, IKKα and IKKβ contributed equally to c-Rel nuclear translocation indicating that different NF-κB subunits exhibit different dependencies on these IKKs. These results demonstrate a major role for IKKα in canonical NF-κB signalling in colorectal cells and may be relevant to efforts to design IKK inhibitors, which have focused largely on IKKβ to date.
DNA REPLICATION DURING ACUTE MEK INHIBITION DRIVES ACQUISITION OF RESISTANCE THROUGH AMPLIFICATION OF THE BRAF ONCOGENE
Prasanna Channathodiyil, Anne Segonds-Pichon, Paul D. Smith, Simon J. Cook, Jonathan Houseley