MELK-T1, a small-molecule inhibitor of protein kinase MELK, decreases DNA-damage tolerance in proliferating cancer cells

Beke L., Kig C., Linders J. T. M., Boens S., Boeckx A., van Heerde E., ...More

BIOSCIENCE REPORTS, vol.35, 2015 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 35
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Doi Number: 10.1042/bsr20150194
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Keywords: chemical biology, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) damage response, maternal embryonic leucine zipper, kinase (MELK) kinase, senescence, small molecule inhibitors., LEUCINE-ZIPPER KINASE, STEM-CELLS, PHOSPHORYLATION, EXPRESSION, INVOLVEMENT, RADIATION, TARGET, GLIOMA, PHASE, ATM
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: No


Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK), a serine/threonine protein kinase, has oncogenic properties and is overexpressed in many cancer cells. The oncogenic function of MELK is attributed to its capacity to disable critical cell-cycle checkpoints and reduce replication stress. Most functional studies have relied on the use of siRNA/shRNAmediated gene silencing. In the present study, we have explored the biological function of MELK using MELK-T1, a novel and selective small-molecule inhibitor. Strikingly, MELK-T1 triggered a rapid and proteasome-dependent degradation of the MELK protein. Treatment of MCF-7 (Michigan Cancer Foundation-7) breast adenocarcinoma cells with MELKT1 induced the accumulation of stalled replication forks and double-strand breaks that culminated in a replicative senescence phenotype. This phenotype correlated with a rapid and long-lasting ataxia telangiectasia-mutated (ATM) activation and phosphorylation of checkpoint kinase 2 (CHK2). Furthermore, MELK-T1 induced a strong phosphorylation of p53 (cellular tumour antigen p53), a prolonged up-regulation of p21 (cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1) and a down-regulation of FOXM1 (Forkhead Box M1) target genes. Our data indicate that MELK is a key stimulator of proliferation by its ability to increase the threshold for DNA-damage tolerance (DDT). Thus, targeting MELK by the inhibition of both its catalytic activity and its protein stability might sensitize tumours to DNA-damaging agents or radiation therapy by lowering the DNA-damage threshold.