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Identification of Plk1 type II inhibitors by structure-based virtual screening

Protein kinases are targets for drug development [1]. Dysregulation of kinase activity leads to various diseases [2], e.g. cancer, inflammation, diabetes [1]. Human polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1), a serine/threonine kinase, is a cancer-relevant gene and a potential drug target which attracts increasing attention in the field of cancer therapy. Plk1 is a key player in mitosis and modulates entry into mitosis and the spindle checkpoint at the meta-/anaphase transition. Plk1 overexpression is observed in various human tumors, and it is a negative prognostic factor for cancer patients [3].

The same catalytical mechanism and the same co-substrate (ATP) lead to the problem of inhibitor selectivity. A strategy to solve this problem is represented by targeting the inactive conformation of kinases [2]. Kinases undergo conformational changes between active and inactive conformation and thus an additional hydrophobic pocket is created in the inactive conformation where the surrounding amino acids are less conserved [2].

A "homology model" of the inactive conformation of Plk1 was constructed, as the crystal structure in its inactive conformation is unknown. A crystal structure of Aurora A kinase served as template structure. With this homology model a receptor-based pharmacophore search was performed using SYBYL7.3 software. The raw hits were filtered using physico-chemical properties. The resulting hits were docked using Gold3.2 software, and 13 candidates for biological testing were manually selected.

Three compounds of the 13 tested exhibit anti-proliferative effects in HeLa cancer cells. The most potent inhibitor, SBE13, was further tested in various other cancer cell lines of different origins and displayed EC50 values between 12 μM and 39 μM. Cancer cells incubated with SBE13 showed induction of apoptosis, detected by PARP (Poly-Adenosyl-Ribose-Polymerase) cleavage, caspase 9 activation and DAPI staining of apoptotic nuclei.


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Keppner, S., Proschak, E., Schneider, G. et al. Identification of Plk1 type II inhibitors by structure-based virtual screening. Chemistry Central Journal 3 (Suppl 1), P65 (2009).

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