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STK33 kinase inhibitor BRD-8899 has no effect on KRAS-dependent cancer cell viability

Article · February 2012with55 Reads
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1120589109 · Source: PubMed
Approximately 30% of human cancers harbor oncogenic gain-of-function mutations in KRAS. Despite interest in KRAS as a therapeutic target, direct blockade of KRAS function with small molecules has yet to be demonstrated. Based on experiments that lower mRNA levels of protein kinases, KRAS-dependent cancer cells were proposed to have a unique requirement for the serine/threonine kinase STK33. Thus, it was suggested that small-molecule inhibitors of STK33 might have therapeutic benefit in these cancers. Here, we describe the development of selective, low nanomolar inhibitors of STK33's kinase activity. The most potent and selective of these, BRD8899, failed to kill KRAS-dependent cells. While several explanations for this result exist, our data are most consistent with the view that inhibition of STK33's kinase activity does not represent a promising anti-KRAS therapeutic strategy.
STK33 kinase inhibitor BRD-8899 has no effect
on KRAS-dependent cancer cell viability
Tuoping Luoa,b,1, Kristina Massona,1, Jacob D. Jaffea, Whitney Silkwortha, Nathan T. Rossa,2, Christina A. Scherera,
Claudia Schollc, Stefan Fröhlingc, Steven A. Carra, Andrew M. Sterna, Stuart L. Schreibera,b,d,3, and Todd R. Goluba,d,e,3
aBroad Institute of Harvard and MIT, 7 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142; bDepartment of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University,
Cambridge, MA 02138; cDepartment of Internal Medicine III, University Hospital of Ulm, 89081 Ulm, Germany; dHoward Hughes Medical Institute,
Bethesda, MD 20817; and eDepartment of Pediatric Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215
Contributed by Stuart L. Schreiber, December 14, 2011 (sent for review September 23, 2011)
Approximately 30% of human cancers harbor oncogenic gain-of-
function mutations in KRAS. Despite interest in KRAS as a therapeu-
tic target, direct blockade of KRAS function with small molecules has
yet to be demonstrated. Based on experiments that lower mRNA
levels of protein kinases, KRAS-dependent cancer cells were pro-
posed to have a unique requirement for the serine/threonine kinase
STK33. Thus, it was suggested that small-molecule inhibitors of
STK33 might have therapeutic benefit in these cancers. Here, we
describe the development of selective, low nanomolar inhibitors
of STK33s kinase activity. The most potent and selective of these,
BRD8899, failed to kill KRAS-dependent cells. While several explana-
tions for this result exist, our data are most consistent with the
view that inhibition of STK33s kinase activity does not represent
a promising anti-KRAS therapeutic strategy.
Oncogenic mutations in the RAS family member KRAS are
among the most common mutations in human cancer (1).
For example, KRAS-mutation frequencies in lung, colon, and
pancreas adenocarcinoma are 30%, 50%, and 90% respectively
(2). These observations, coupled with functional studies, suggest
that KRAS is a highly attractive therapeutic target for many
cancers. Unfortunately, small-molecule targeting of KRAS has
not yet been achieved, and no effective KRAS inhibitors have
been described. Blockade of prenylation of the KRAS C-terminal
membrane anchoring domain with farnesyltransferase inhibitors
has met with limited success, due at least in part to increased
expression of geranylgeranyl transferase (3). Similarly, targeting
other steps in the processing of the KRAS C-terminal region
through the inhibition of Ras-converting enzyme or isoprenyl-
cysteine-carboxymethyltransferase has yet to be clinically vali-
dated (2). Efforts to target the downstream effector pathways of
KRAS with MEK inhibitors alone or in combination with PI3K
inhibitors have shown promising preclinical results and are cur-
rently being evaluated in the clinic (4). Nevertheless, the therapeu-
tic targeting of KRAS remains one of the grand challenges in
cancer research.
Recently, an alternative approach to targeting KRAS has been
proposednamely, the RNA interference (RNAi)-based screen-
ing for synthetic lethal gene/RNA interactions that might then
suggest protein targets more druggablethan the targeted mRNA
or the KRAS protein itself (59). A recently reported RNAi screen
suggested the serine-threonine kinase STK33 as such a target
(9). Knock down of STK33 was reported to induce apoptosis in
KRAS-dependent AML cancer cell lines but spare KRAS wild-
type cells. While the normal function of the STK33 protein is un-
known, the results led the authors to propose that a small-molecule
inhibitor of STK33s protein kinase activity would selectively kill
KRAS-mutant cancer cells. As no such small-molecule inhibitors
exist, we set out to discover them, and to characterize their activity
as anti-KRAS agents.
High Throughput Screening for STK33 Kinase Inhibitors. We first
established an assay suitable for screening for STK33 kinase
inhibitors. Using baculovirus-expressed full length human recom-
binant STK33 and the general kinase substrate myelin basic
protein (MBP), a biochemical assay was optimized that quantified
the STK33 kinase-dependent generation of ADP (see Materials
and Methods). Radiometric analysis and mass spectroscopy (MS)
(10, 11) were used to corroborate that the ADP generated was
quantitatively coupled to phosphorylation of MBP (SI Appendix,
Fig. S1). The reaction rate was linear with respect to time and
enzyme concentration and Michaelis-Menten constants were de-
termined (SI Appendix,Fig.S2). The relatively nonspecific kinase
inhibitor dimethyl fasudil (BRD7446) was identified in a pilot
screen as a low micromolar STK33 inhibitor; it therefore served as
a positive control for subsequent screening (SI Appendix,Fig.S2E).
A high throughput screen of 27,500 compounds from diverse
chemical collections (SI Appendix, Table S1) was performed in du-
plicate at 100 μM ATP (threefold above the KM;ATP). Coefficients
of variation (CVs) of 46% for the DMSO vehicle control and
corresponding Zfactor values for the positive control between
0.64 and 0.76 were obtained (12). The hit rate was 0.4% at an in-
hibition threshold of 20% inhibition where Zfactor equaled zero
(SI Appendix,Fig.S3). The IC50 values of the 102 primary hits were
measured at two ATP concentrations (100 and 25 μM) using both
the ADP-Glo and HTRF assays.
The STK33-inhibitory activity of 95/102 compounds (93%) was
verified in replicate experiments, and these compounds clustered
into 37 discrete chemotypes (SI Appendix, Fig. S4). Four groups
appeared to be ATP-noncompetitive inhibitors but were either
very weak or contained chemically reactive moieties, and were
therefore not prioritized. All other hits were ATP-competitive
inhibitors with IC50 values in the micromolar range, except the
chemotype of staurosporine (a notoriously nonselective kinase
inhibitor) that inhibited STK33 with low nanomolar potency.
Fasudil (BRD7868) (Table 1), a known inhibitor of Rho-asso-
ciated protein kinase (ROCK) (13) as well as seven of its analogs
yielded a structure-activity relationship for inhibiting STK33.
This series was therefore prioritized as the lead structure for
chemical optimization due to its low micromolar potency, known
selectivity for other kinases, physical properties, and synthetic
Author contributions: T.L., K.M., J.D.J., W.S., N.T.R., S.A.C., A.M.S., S.L.S., and T.R.G.
designed research; T.L., K.M., J.D.J., and W.S. performed research; C. Scholl and S.F.
contributed new reagents/analytic tools; T.L., K.M., J.D.J., N.T.R.,and C.A. Scherer analyzed
data; and T.L., K.M., A.M.S., S.L.S., and T.R.G. wrote the paper.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.
1T.L. and K.M. contributed equally to this work.
2Present address: Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, 250 Massachusetts
Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02142.
3To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail: or
This article contains supporting information online at
28602865 PNAS February 21, 2012 vol. 109 no. 8
STK33 Can Autophosphorylate In Vitro and Is Inhibited by a Fasudil
Analog. During the optimization of STK33 inhibitors, we sought
to confirm that the candidate inhibitors were truly functioning as
STK33 inhibitors, and were not simply an artifact of a screening
assay based on an artificial kinase substrate (MBP). To address this
concern, we assessed whether STK33, like many kinases, is autop-
hosphorylated, and if so, whether our candidate STK33-inhibitory
compounds blocked such autophosphorylation (SI Appendix,Fig
.S1A) (9, 14). Mass spectrometry revealed several sites of phos-
phorylation on STK33 (Fig. 1). Two sites (Thr440 and Ser441)
were found to be phosphorylated in the preparation of recombi-
nant STK33 itself and the remaining sites were due to bona fide
in vitro kinase activity of the enzyme. Among the sites observed
were the Thr491/Ser493/Thr496 cluster that had been previously
reported to be regulated during the cell cycle in HeLa cells (15).
We then verified that the lead scaffold that emerged from the
biochemical screen (represented in BRD3773, BRD3752, and
BRD3695, see structures in Table 1), indeed inhibited the autopho-
sphorylation of STK33 at these sites in a concentration-dependent
manner (Fig. 1). These results suggested that the scaffold was
a suitable starting point for further optimization with respect to
STK33 inhibition.
Chemical Optimization of STK33 Inhibitors. For chemical optimiza-
tion, 250 fasudil analogs were synthesized and tested in the
biochemical assay (SI Appendix, Schemes S1S5, Table S13,
and SI Materials and Methods). Structurally, fasudil comprises
two fragments: an isoquinoline ring and a homopiperazine ring,
connected by the sulfonyl functionality on the 5-position of the
isoquinoline. The sulfonamide functionality and nitrogen on
the isoquinoline ring are critical for the potency against STK33
(SI Appendix, Table S2). Replacing the basic amine nitrogen with
carbon or oxygen, or converting it to an amide, resulted in signif-
icantly reduced potency (BRD7657 vs. BRD2998 and BRD4220,
BRD7868 vs. BRD0188, BRD7647 vs. BRD6818, Table 1, SI
Appendix, Table S3). We observed that the two additional methyl
groups in dimethyl fasudil lead to a sevenfold increase in potency
compared to fasudil (BRD7446 vs. BRD7868). While one mono-
methyl fasudil isomer, namely BRD1869, was threefold less
potent than fasudil (BRD7868), the other monomethyl fasudil
isomer (BRD3773) was over 70-fold more potent against
STK33 compared to fasudil (BRD7868). Therefore we explored
the effect of monomethylation at several positions of the isoqui-
noline ring; only 4-methyl substitution significantly increased
the potency (SI Appendix, Table S4). An SAR study performed
on isoquinoline 4-substitution indicated that only a small alkyl
group, such as ethyl (BRD5930), is tolerated, while polar or bulky
groups resulted in decreased activity (SI Appendix, Table S5).
Further optimization on the amine fragment led to two more
nanomolar STK33 inhibitors (BRD3752 and BRD3695); their
enantiomers were 60100-fold less active (BRD0828 and
BRD9573) (Table 1, SI Appendix, Table S6).
Further chemical optimization was guided by measures of
STK33 selectivity. As measured by kinase activity profiling
against 241 kinases (SI Appendix, Table S7), BRD3773 exhibited
relative STK33 selectivity, inhibiting 36 kinases with estimated Ki
values within 10-fold of that of STK33. Compound BRD3695
showed further selectivity with respect to those 36 kinases (SI
Appendix, Fig. S5), with inhibition confined to the AGC subfamily
of kinases, and therefore became the lead for further chemical
Modification of the pyrrolidine ring of BRD3695 (SI Appendix,
Table S8) yielded more potent, low nanomolar analogs
(BRD4980, BRD9949, and BRD8899). These compounds were
more potent than their corresponding (2R, 4S) diastereomers
(BRD1045, BRD7071, and BRD5749). The low nanomolar po-
tency of BRD8899 against STK33 as well as other selected inhi-
bitors was confirmed by competition binding assay (SI Appendix,
Table S9) (16). Furthermore, the specificity of BRD8899 was
retained, exhibiting significant off-target inhibition of a few other
kinases, including RIOK1 (97% inhibition), MST4 (96%), RSK4
(89%), ATK1(85%), KITD816V(85%), ROCK1 (84%), and FLT3
(81%), while STK33 was inhibited by 89% (SI Appendix,
Table S10). BRD8899 thus represents a 200-fold improvement
in potency compared to the initial screening hit (BRD7446), with
increased selectivity for STK33 (Fig. 2).
Characterization of BRD8899 in Cell-Based Assays. Having demon-
strated that BRD8899 is a potent and selective inhibitor of
STK33 kinase activity in biochemical assays, we next turned to
its characterization in cells. It has been previously reported that
STK33 knock down via RNAi results in the selective killing of
mutant KRAS-dependent cancer cells (9), a result that we con-
firmed using the same shRNAs in KRAS-mutant AML cell lines
(NOMO-1 and SKM-1 AML cells) compared to KRAS-wild-type
lines (THP-1 and U937) (SI Appendix, Fig. S7). We next asked
whether BRD8899 could recapitulate KRAS-associated pattern
of cell killing. We therefore tested BRD8899 at a range of doses
across 35 cancer cell lines, but observed no effect on cell viability
in any of the lines at concentrations as high as 20 μM (Fig. 3A,
SI Appendix, Fig. S6 and Table S12). (9) Because BRD8899 (our
most potent STK33 inhibitor) failed to kill KRAS-mutant cell
lines as predicted by the RNAi experiments, we tested additional
analogs for their ability to kill cancer cells. While some of these
compounds reduced cell viability, such cytotoxicity was uncorre-
lated with KRAS-mutation status across the panel of cell lines
Fig. 1. Proteomic assessment of STK33 autophosphorylation. Sites on STK33
determined to be autophosphorylated are shown on the left. Increasing con-
centrations of the three fasudil analogs shown were added to an in vitro
phosphorylation reaction in which the only substrate present was STK33 it-
self. The heatmap is colored according to how the level of phosphorylation at
a given site changed in response to addition of compound at the specified
concentration vs. DMSO control. Some compound concentrations were found
to increase phosphorylations at given sites, leading to values >100%.1am-
biguously localized phosphorylation within the span of bracketed amino
acids. 2ambiguously localized double phosphorylation within the span of
bracketed amino acids.
Luo et al. PNAS February 21, 2012 vol. 109 no. 8 2861
(Fig. 3B,SI Appendix, Fig. S6). We therefore conclude that the
observed cell death is most likely explained by off-target effects of
these less potent compounds, rather than by STK33-inhibitory
Establishing Bioactivity of BRD8899 in Cells. The experiments
described above suggest that treatment of KRAS-mutant cancer
cells with low nanomolar biochemical potency against STK33
does not result in cell death, arguing against the notion that
the enzymatic function of STK33 represents an attractive thera-
peutic target in KRAS-mutant cancers. However, it is possible
that while BRD8899 is highly potent in biochemical assays, it
fails to inhibit STK33 in cellseven at 1,000-fold higher concen-
trations. To address this possibility, we sought a biomarker of
BRD8899 activity in cells. We first looked for evidence of STK33
autophosphorylation in cells, given the observation that such
autophosphorylation occurs with recombinant STK33, and is in-
hibited by BRD8899. However, looking across multiple cell lines,
we found endogenous STK33 to be expressed at low levels, and
phosphorylation was not detectable by mass spectrometry (for
details, see Materials and Methods). We therefore turned to
the kinase profiling data for BRD8899, where we observed simi-
larly potent inhibition of the kinase MST4 in addition to STK33.
Treatment of NOMO-1 cells with BRD8899 resulted in decreased
phosphorylation of the MST4 substrate ezrin (Fig. 4A), but had
no effect on ERK phosphorylation, as predicted from the kinase
profiling data (Fig. 4B). This finding suggests that BRD8899
indeed gets into cells, inhibits the activity of a target (MST4)
predicted by kinase profiling experiments, and yet does not kill
KRAS-mutant cancer cells. These results are most consistent
with BRD8899 likely inhibiting STK33 in cells, but STK33 kinase
activity not serving as a compelling target for KRAS-mutant
tumors. Of course in the absence of a direct biomarker of
STK33 activity in cells, we cannot exclude that whereas BRD8899
inhibits MST4 (as an off-target effect), it does not effectively
inhibit STK33 in cells.
Cancer genomes have served as powerful guides to the develop-
ment of cancer therapeutics that target oncogene dependencies.
Several examples point to the utility of targeting mutant, onco-
genic kinases with small-molecule inhibitors, with dramatic
clinical success being seen in chronic myeloid leukemia (17), gas-
trointestinal stromal tumors (18), lung cancer (19), and melano-
ma (20). However, the therapeutic path for nonkinase mutations
in cancer is less established. In particular, recurrent mutations
in KRAS have been known to exist for over a quarter century,
and yet KRAS has been considered undruggable.
A general solution to approaching cancer targets, however,
has recently been suggested. Borrowing from the concepts of
synthetic lethality first explored in yeast, nononcogene addic-
tionhas been proposed (8, 21). One avenue to identify non-
oncogene codependencies (proteins on which oncogenes are
dependent yet not themselves mutated) relies on genetic screens
Table 1. Biochemical activity of selected STK33 inhibitors
R1R2IC50 (μM) R1R2IC50 (μM) R1R2IC50 (μM)
BRD7657: H-9
14 H
>186 Me
BRD7868: Fasudil
14 H
50 Me
BRD7446: Dimethyl-fasudil
2.0 Me
0.19 Me
BRD7647: H-89
Br 2.2 Et
0.28 Me
>186 Me
0.047 Me
110 Me
3.7 Me
>186 Me
0.063 Me
Representative fasudil analogs, tested for their inhibition of STK33 kinase activity in vitro. The side groups for R1and R2are presented for each analog
(see the top structure for positions), along with the compound name and the IC50 at 25 μMATP.
2862 Luo et al.
to infer potentially more readily druggable proteins whose inhibi-
tion is selectively lethal in the context of particular mutations.
Such approaches are highly attractive because they do not require
prior knowledge of the biological basis of the synthetic lethal
interactionrather, the relationship is revealed through an un-
biased screen such as an RNAi screen. On the other hand, while
this approach might establish a synthetic relationship between
a genetic feature of a cancer and the lowering of a target mRNA,
they do not establish such a relationship involving a function
of the encoded protein. Assuming RNAi-induced changes in
mRNA levels and small-molecule-modulated protein function
are equivalent, the report of STK33 essentiality in mutant KRAS-
dependent cancer cells (9) was encouraging because STK33, as a
serine/threonine kinase, was in principle an accessible target of
small molecules, and such compounds could form the basis of
anti-KRAS therapeutics. We therefore developed a biochemical
STK33 kinase assay to identify specific STK33 inhibitors that
could be evaluated in cellular proof-of-principle studies. A high
throughput screen identified a series of STK33 kinase-inhibitory
compounds, which were subsequently optimized for potency
(representing 200 1;000-fold increase in potency) while mini-
mizing off-target effects (inhibiting only three other kinases more
potently than STK33). Specifically, our lead compound,
BRD8899, exhibited an IC50 of 11 nM in an STK33 biochemical
assay. However, contrary to essentiality of STK33 predicted by
initial genetic studies of STK33, BRD8899 failed to kill KRAS-
mutant cells at concentrations as high as 20 μM.
There are a number of explanations of the failure of a potent
STK33 kinase inhibitor to kill KRAS-mutant cells, and several
are offered here. It is conceivable that while BRD8899 (and its
analogs) inhibit STK33 kinase activity in biochemical assays, it
does not do so in living cells. For example, it is possible that
BRD8899 does not penetrate cells. However, several pieces of
evidence argue against this possibility. Ideally, one would have
a direct measure of STK33 kinase activity in cells, but to date,
no such biomarker has been developed for STK33. We attempted
to identify such a direct biomarker, looking for evidence of the
STK33 autophosphorylation we observed using recombinant
STK33 protein. Unfortunately, owing to the low level of STK33
expression in the two cancer cell lines analyzed (NOMO-1 and
SKM-1), we were unable to document such phosphorylation.
We therefore turned to indirect measures of BRD8899 bioactivity,
using the predicted off-target effects of the compound suggested by
kinase specificity profiling. Indeed, we found that BRD8899 inhi-
bits the kinase MST4 in cells (resulting in subsequent decreased
phosphorylation of an MST4 substrate, ezrin). These biomarker
studies, while indirect, suggest that BRD8899 does in fact enter
cells, and can inhibit the activity of its kinase targets. While it is
conceivable that BRD8899 inhibits MST4 but not STK33, we con-
sider that scenario less likely. Although other explanations exist,
such as a cellular context dependency recently reported with small-
molecule inhibitors of PKC and PDK1 (23, 24), overall we surmise
that inhibiting STK33 kinase activity is not likely to be an effective
therapeutic strategy for KRAS-mutant cancer.
While inhibition of STK33 kinase activity may not result in
KRAS-related cell killing, it is possible that nonkinase activities
of STK33 may be responsible for its observed essentiality in
RNAi-based studies. For example, STK33 could have a distinct
function other than its kinase activity. It is conceivable that
STK33 has a more structural, scaffolding function that is required
for the proper function of a multiprotein complex. Whereas
RNAi-mediated knock down of STK33 might disrupt such puta-
tive scaffolding activity, a small-molecule kinase inhibition may
not. Such nonkinase activities of STK33 cannot be excluded by
our present studies. A similar conclusion was reached in a recent
independent study (22).
An alternative explanation for the failure of STK33 inhibitors
to recapitulate STK33 the knock-down phenotype is that the
shRNA reagents have off-target (non-STK33) effects. Arguing
against this alternative explanation is the observation that a domi-
nant-negative STK33 construct was shown to result in selective
lethality to KRAS-dependent cell lines (9). Nevertheless, until
clear rescue experiments using non-RNAi-inhibitable STK33 ex-
pression constructs demonstrate rescue of shRNA-mediated kill-
ing, an off-target mechanism must remain a formal possibility. We
note that a recent study using STK33 siRNA oligonucleotides tran-
siently transfected into AML cell lines failed to show a KRAS-spe-
cific killing effect (22). However, the transfection efficiency was
not reported and only partial STK33 knock down was achieved
in those experiments, making it difficult to interpret the results.
It has been recently suggested that while gain of function
mutations within oncogenes lead to increases in rate-determining
Fig. 2. Small molecule/kinase interaction maps for
BRD7446 and BRD8899. The kinase profiling (16)
was done at 5 μM for BRD7446 and 1 μMfor
BRD8899, resulting in equal inhibition of STK33 in
a biochemical assay. Kinases found to bind are
marked with red circles; larger circles indicate higher
affinity binding. STK33 is indicated by the red arrow.
Luo et al. PNAS February 21, 2012 vol. 109 no. 8 2863
steps in signaling, their synthetic lethal partners may operate
through relatively rapid signaling steps (8). Although these fast steps
might be modulated by irreversiblemaneuvers such as RNAi
knock down and dominant negative expression, achieving this same
level of target modulation with reversible small molecule competi-
tive inhibitors may be more difficult. The extent to which this phe-
nomenon explains our STK33 results remains to be determined.
The experiments described here used cell viability as the
readout of STK33 modulation. As such, these studies do not
preclude the possibility of an important role of STK33 in other
cancer phenotypes (e.g., migration, adhesion). However, our
study indicates that the pharmaceutical targeting of STK33 ki-
nase activity may not result in an effective strategy for patients
with KRAS-mutant cancers. Nevertheless, the potential of syn-
thetic-lethal RNAi screens should not be underestimated; they
represent a powerful strategy for identifying promising new
anticancer targets.
Materials and Methods
STK33 and Kinase Assays. Human full length STK33 containing an amino
terminal histidine tag expressed by baculovirus in Sf21 cells was purchased
from Millipore Corporation (catalog # 14-671-K, purity >93% by SDS-PAGE
and Coomassie blue staining). Myelin basic protein (bovine) was purchased
from Millipore Corporation (catalog # 13104). ATP, ADP, 4-Morpholine-
propanesulfonic acid (MOPS), MgCl2, Brij-35, glycerol, 2-mercaptoethanol,
and BSA were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich. The 384-well general plates
were purchased from VWR (Corning 3570); 384-well low volume plates
were purchased from Greiner Bio-One (384W SV, HiBase, PS, LUMITRAC
200, Medium Binding, 30 μLwell, catalog # 784075). CyBi®-Well vario
was purchased from CyBio AG. CyBi tips were purchased from CyBio AG
(CyBi-Tip Trays 384 standard; catalog # OL 3800-25-513-N). HTRF Transcreener
ADP assay was purchased from Cis-bio US (catalog # 62ADPPEC); ADP-Glo
assays were purchased from Promega Corporation (catalog # V9103). The
Envision 2012 multilabel reader was purchased from PerkinElmer, Inc. Multi-
drop Combi reagent dispenser and cassettes were purchased from Thermo
Fisher Scientific, Inc.
Kinase reactions were performed under 10 mM MOPS-NaOH (pH 7.0),
10 mM MgCl2, 0.3 mM EDTA, 0.001% Brij-35, 0.5% glycerol, 0.01% 2-mercap-
toethanol, and 0.1mgmL BSA. The enzyme concentration (STK33) and
substrate concentration (MBP and ATP) were varied depending on the
experiment. Reactions were initiated by the addition of ATP (final concentra-
tion 25 500 μM depending on experiments) and incubated at 30 °C or
room temperature for the indicated time. For additional details, see
SI Appendix,SI Materials and Methods.
Mass Spectrometric Assessment of Phosphorylation State of MBP and STK33
for In Vitro Assays. For MBP, assay conditions were as described in STK33
and Kinase Assaysand SI Appendix, Fig. S1. For STK33, 1 μg of total
STK33 was incubated with 100 μM ATP, in the absence or presence of
the concentration of fasudil analog indicated in Fig. 1. The reaction was
terminated by the addition of SDS-PAGE loading buffer containing 1% SDS
containing 10 mM DTT and heating to 95 °C for 5 min. Samples were reduced
at room temperature for 30 min and cysteines were subsequently alkylated
with 30 mM iodoacetamide for 30 min. SDS-PAGE separation and gel band
sample preparation was done as described (10). Liquid Chromatography
Mass spectrometry (LCMS) was performed on an Orbitrap mass spectrometer
(ThermoFisher Scientific) coupled to a nano-flow chromatography system
(Agilent 1100), as described (11). For each survey scan, the top 10 most abun-
dant peptidic ions were selected for collision-induced dissociation (MS/MS
sequencing), using intelligent sampling dynamic exclusion principles (21).
The data were analyzed using SpectrumMill Proteomics Workbench (Agilent)
as described (21). Extracted ion chromatograms corresponding to the phos-
phopeptides from either MBP or STK33 were generated using XCalibur (Ther-
moFisher Scientific) (7.5ppm window width). Area under these curves
was used as the basis for quantification of the effect of the fasudil analogs
on site-specific phosphorylation. All peak areas were normalized to total
protein amount for each condition, as determined by the peak area under
a peptide that could not be phosphorylated in the assay.
Analysis of STK33 Expression in Cells. NOMO-1 and SKM-1 cells were grown in
SILAC (stable isotope labeling with amino acids in culture) heavy medium.
Recombinant STK33 was added at known concentrations in SILAC light
medium and proteins within lysates were separated on gel electrophoresis
and then analyzed by MS. Based on the light standard, the levels of endo-
genous STK33 were estimated to approximately 10 ng1.5×108cells. Similar
experiments were done using NOMO-1 cells stably expressing Flag-STK33 in
a pLenti6.2 vector, and the levels of overexpressed protein were estimated
to be approximately 10-fold higher. For the phosphorylation studies by
MS, synthetic phospho-peptides for STK33 (based on known phosphorylation
sites from the in vitro kinase assay) were added into the digest of Flag-STK33
expressed in NOMO-1 cells to estimate the detectable amounts of phospho-
STK33 in cells.
Cell Lines and Culture Conditions. NOMO-1, SKM-1, NB4, THP-1, U937,
OCI-AML3, MM1S, and RPMI-8226, were kindly provided by Gary Gilliland
(Brigham and Womens Hospital, Boston). TF-1, P31/FUJ, MOLM-16, PL-21,
EOL-1, GDM-1, Colo-205, HeyA8, OvCar-3, CaOV3, OvCar-8, and KYSE-405
cells were provided by the Broad-Novartis Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia.
The remaining cell lines were obtained from the American Type Culture
Collection and the German Collection of Microorganism and Cell Cultures.
Fig. 3. Cell viability assay for fasudil analogs BRD8899, BRD3773, BRD9573,
and BRD3695. (Aand B). Dose-response curves of KRAS and STK33 dependent
NOMO-1 and SKM-1 cells and KRAS and STK33 independent THP-1 and U937
cells (as previously confirmed by RNAi), using CellTiter Glo as a measurement
for viability. Cells were plated in 384-well plates and treated with compounds
for 72 h. The luminescence values of each compound treatment divided by
the median of all DMSO values for each individual cell line was taken as a
measurement of relative viability. Error bars represent the standard deviation
of three replicates. KRAS mutant and KRAS wild-type cell lines are depicted in
red or blue, respectively. For 31 additional cell lines screened, see SI Appendix,
Fig. S6.
2864 Luo et al.
All cell lines were maintained under the manufacturers recommended
standard conditions.
STK33 and KRAS Knock Down. Generation of virus, transduction, and selection
of cells was done as previously described (9). In brief, cells were transduced
with pLKO.1puromycin lentiviral shRNA vectors from the TRC shRNA library,
and selected with 4μgmL puromycin for 48 h. Cell viability was measured
at timepoints 0 and 72 h after selection. Hairpins targeting the following
sequences in STK33 were used: GCAGTTCAAGTTTCACATCTA (2,078) GAACA-
pins targeting the following sequences in KRAS were used: GCAGACGT-
Cell Viability Assays. Cells were plated in 384-well plates at optimized densi-
ties and incubated overnight prior to treatment. Compounds were added to
cells using a CyBio Well Vario after which cells were cultured under standard
condition for 72 h (unless stated otherwise). Cell viability was measured using
CellTiter Glo luminescence (Promega) and readout using an LJL Biosystems
Analyst microplate reader. Raw numbers were the normalized to the median
of the DMSO treated wells for each plate.
Protein Assays and Western Blotting. Whole-cell lysates were prepared using a
lysis buffer from Cell Signaling Technology (# 9803) and subjected to Western
blotting according to standard procedures. The membranes were developed
using a LI-COR Odyssey Infrared Imaging system, and the images were ana-
lyzed by Adobe Photoshop and ImageJ softwares. The following antibodies
were used: anti-MST4 (Cell Signaling, #3822), anti-ezrin (Cell Signaling,
#3245), anti-phospho-ezrin (Cell Signaling, #3141), anti-phospho-ERK (Cell
Signaling, #437) and anti-ERK (Santa Cruz, #135900).
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank members of the Broad Institute Chemical
Biology Platform for high throughput screening assistance. We also thank
D. Gary Gilliland at Merck Research Laboratories and Robert J. Gould at
Epizyme for helpful advice. This study was supported by a Starr Cancer Con-
sortium grant. In addition, T.L. was supported by a grant from the National
Institute of General Medical Sciences (GM38627 awarded to S.L.S.), K.M. was
supported by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), and C.S.
was supported by an Emmy Noether Fellowship from the German Research
Foundation. Support for these studies was also provided by the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) Genomics Based Drug Discovery-Driving Medical
Projects Grant RL1-GM084437 and RL1-CA133834, administratively linked
to NIH grants RL1-HG004671 and UL1-DE019585.
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BFig. 4. MST4 and ERK kinase activity was used as surrogate
biomarker and negative control for BRD8899, respectively.
(Aand B.) NOMO-1 cells were treated with the indicated
concentrations of staurosporine, the farnesyl transferase in-
hibitor L744 (as positive controls) or the fasudil analog
BRD8899 for 24 h. Samples were lysed and subjected to im-
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Luo et al. PNAS February 21, 2012 vol. 109 no. 8 2865
  • ...The concept of synthetic lethality, based on finding genetic interactions between cancer drivers and their " druggable " partners[21], was proposed as a revolutionary approach to targeted anticancer treatment[22], but so far only a few synthetic lethality-based treatments have made it to the clinic[23]. In some cases, the identified synthetic lethal hits from large-scale RNAi screens have been refuted by follow-up studies[24][25][26], leading to wasted drug discovery efforts and increased confusion about the reproducibility of the RNAi methodology. The high false discovery rate observed in siRNA-based screens has often been attributed to the presence of offtarget effects, mediated primarily through the " seed " region, 2–8-nucleotide positions in the guide strand of the RNAi molecule[27]. ...
  • ...It is noteworthy that most synthetic lethal interactions with mutant RAS occur in those cancer cells that also depend on the continuous presence of mutant RAS. However, for several of these interactions it has been difficult to confirm the synthetic lethal interaction in the context of other cell lines, in in vivo models, or using small molecule inhibitors (Luo et al. 2012), and none of the interactions has proven effective in a clinical setting until now. ...
  • ...In 2009, Scholl et al. discovered from an RNAi screen that KRAS-driven cancers are dependent on a gene that encodes for a serine/threonine protein kinase STK33 [58]. In 2012, Luo et al. developed a potent and selective kinase inhibitor for STK33 which failed to reproduce the synthetic lethality observed in the original screen [107]. It can be argued that this is due to the fact that STK33 has other non-kinase functions that are critical to the viability of KRAS-driven cancer cells, for example protein scaffolding . ...
November 2011 · Cancer Research · Impact Factor: 9.33
    -dependent cancer cells (1), a finding in contrast toprevious investigations (2–4). We believe the data do notsupport this conclusion and wish to bring selected methodo-logic issues to the authors' attention. Because of space con-straints, we have focused on the RNA interference (RNAi)experiments presented.Transient transfection of siRNAs was used to target... [Show full abstract]
    December 2012 · ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters · Impact Factor: 3.12
      The KRAS oncogene is found in up to 30% of all human tumors. In 2009, RNAi experiments revealed that lowering mRNA levels of a transcript encoding the serine/threonine kinase STK33 was selectively toxic to KRAS-dependent cancer cell lines, suggesting that small-molecule inhibitors of STK33 might selectively target KRAS-dependent cancers. To test this hypothesis, we initiated a high-throughput... [Show full abstract]
      November 2011 · Cancer Research · Impact Factor: 9.33
        Our recently published work ([1][1]) was initiated based on the conclusion in Scholl and colleagues that “cells that are dependent on mutant KRAS exhibit sensitivity to suppression of STK33, irrespective of tissue of origin” and that “STK33 promotes cancer cell viability in a kinase activity
        July 2011 · Cancer Research · Impact Factor: 9.33
          Despite the prevalence of KRAS mutations in human cancers, there remain no targeted therapies for treatment. The serine-threonine kinase STK33 has been proposed to be required for the survival of mutant KRAS-dependent cell lines, suggesting that small molecule kinase inhibitors of STK33 may be useful to treat KRAS-dependent tumors. In this study, we investigated the role of STK33 in mutant... [Show full abstract]
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