Mass spectrometry– based selectivity profiling identifies a highly selective inhibitor of the kinase MELK that delays mitotic entry in cancer cells

Ian M. McDonald, Gavin D. Grant, Michael P. East, Thomas S.K. Gilbert, Emily M. Wilkerson, Dennis Goldfarb, Joshua Beri, Laura E. Herring, Cyrus Vaziri, Jeanette Gowen Cook, Michael J. Emanuele, Lee M. Graves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) has been implicated in the regulation of cancer cell proliferation. RNAi-mediated MELK depletion impairs growth and causes G2/M arrest in numerous cancers, but the mechanisms underlying these effects are poorly understood. Furthermore, the MELK inhibitor OTSSP167 has recently been shown to have poor selectivity for MELK, complicating the use of this inhibitor as a tool compound to investigate MELK function. Here, using a cell-based proteomics technique called multiplexed kinase inhibitor beads/mass spectrometry (MIB/MS), we profiled the selectivity of two additional MELK inhibitors, NVS-MELK8a (8a) and HTH-01-091. Our results revealed that 8a is a highly selective MELK inhibitor, which we further used for functional studies. Resazurin and crystal violet assays indicated that 8a decreases triple-negative breast cancer cell viability, and immunoblotting revealed that impaired growth is due to perturbation of cell cycle progression rather than induction of apoptosis. Using double-thymidine synchronization and immunoblotting, we observed that MELK inhibition delays mitotic entry, which was associated with delayed activation of Aurora A, Aurora B, and cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (CDK1). Following this delay, cells entered and completed mitosis. Using live-cell microscopy of cells harboring fluorescent proliferating cell nuclear antigen, we confirmed that 8a significantly and dose-dependently lengthens G2 phase. Collectively, our results provide a rationale for using 8a as a tool compound for functional studies of MELK and indicate that MELK inhibition delays mitotic entry, likely via transient G2/M checkpoint activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2359-2374
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Volume295
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 21 2020

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