Examining Ligand-Based Stabilization of Proteins in Cells with MEK1 Kinase Inhibitors.

Authors: Auld DS, Davis CA, Jimenez M, Knight S, Orme JP.
Publisher/Year: Assay Drug Dev Technol. 2015 Jun;13(5):266-76.
Pub Med ID/Journal ID: PMID:26107610


In this study, we describe the evaluation of a cell-based protein stability assay using β-galactosidase fragment complementation technology performed in two independent laboratories. The assay is based on the ability of certain ligands to bind to a protein leading to a ligand-protein complex that has a different stability than the free protein. The assay employed a prolabeled-tagged MEK1 kinase stably expressed in A549 cells and this was used to evaluate focused sets of compounds containing known MEK1inhibitors as well as a random set of compounds. An assay using a prolabeled-tagged lysine methyltransferase known as G9a expressed in A549 cells was used as a counterscreen. In one study, it was found that the majority of MEK1 inhibitors were either found as inactive (52%) or showed a selective inhibitory response (18%) in the cell-based MEK1 assay; however, eight compounds showed a specific activation response consistent with stabilization of MEK1 in cells. Examination of these stabilizing compounds showed that three of these were analogs of hypothemycin, a known covalent allosteric MEK1 inhibitor, while the remaining compounds covered one structural class. Both laboratories were able to confirm activity in the cell-based MEK1 assay for known MEK1 inhibitors and found that this activity was highly selective over the G9a counterscreen assay. Screening of a mechanism of action library containing compounds with bioactivity annotations against the cell-based MEK1 assay did not reveal any mechanisms leading to an increase in signal other than inhibitors of MEK1. This study supports that the MEK1 cellular protein stability assay is sensitive to certain MEK1 inhibitors, often noncompetitive inhibitors with respect to ATP. The cellular stability assay format could be useful to rapidly filter kinase inhibitor hit lists for allosteric kinase inhibitors and support target engagement in cells.