The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signal pathway plays a central role in regulating tumor cell proliferation, survival, and differentiation. The components of this pathway, Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK, are frequently activated in human cancers. Targeting this pathway is considered to be a promising anticancer strategy. In particular, MEK is an attractive drug target because of its high selectivity to ERK. We can expect potent growth inhibitory and proapoptotic effects by inhibiting MEK. Here, we report derivatives of N-[2-(2-chloro-4-iodo- phenylamino)-3,4-difluorophenyl]-methanesulfonamide as novel MEK1/2 inhibitors. Among these compounds, we found SMK-17 to be a potent MEK1/2 inhibitor with high aqueous solubility. The in-silico docking study suggested that SMK-17 is bound to an allosteric pocket of MEK1. The kinetic study and the kinase profiler analysis confirmed the allosteric nature of SMK-17. SMK-17 inhibited MEK1 kinase activity in a non-ATP-competitive manner and it was highly selective to MEK1 and 2. SMK-17 inhibited the growth of tumor cell lines in vitro. Especially, it seemed that cell lines harboring highly phosphorylated MEK1/2 and ERK1/2 were highly sensitive to SMK-17. Moreover, unlike previously reported MEK inhibitors, PD184352 or U0126, SMK-17 did not inhibit the phosphorylation of ERK5. In vivo, SMK-17 exhibited potent antitumor activity in animal models on oral administration. SMK-17 selectively blocked the MAPK pathway signaling without affecting other signal pathways, which resulted in significant antitumor efficacy without notable side effects. These findings suggest that SMK-17, an exquisitely selective, orally available MEK1/2 inhibitor, is a useful chemical biology tool for characterizing the function of MEK/MAPK signaling both in vitro and in vivo.
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