The Rho associated coiled-coil containing protein kinase (ROCK1 and ROCK2) and myotonic dystrophy-related Cdc-42 binding kinases (MRCKα and MRCKβ) are critical regulators of cell proliferation and cell plasticity, a process intimately involved in cancer cell migration and invasion. Previously, we reported the discovery of a novel small molecule (DJ4) selective multi-kinase inhibitor of ROCK1/2 and MRCKα/β. Herein, we further characterized the anti-proliferative and apoptotic effects of DJ4 in non-small cell lung cancer and triple-negative breast cancer cells. To further optimize the ROCK/MRCK inhibitory potency of DJ4, we generated a library of 27 analogs. Among the various structural modifications, we identified four additional active analogs with enhanced ROCK/MRCK inhibitory potency. The anti-proliferative and cell cycle inhibitory effects of the active analogs were examined in non-small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma cell lines. The anti-proliferative effectiveness of DJ4 and the active analogs was further demonstrated against a wide array of cancer cell types using the NCI-60 human cancer cell line panel. Lastly, these new analogs were tested for anti-migratory effects in highly invasive MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Together, our results demonstrate that selective inhibitors of ROCK1/2 (DJE4, DJ-Allyl) inhibited cell proliferation and induced cell cycle arrest at G2/M but were less effective in cell death induction compared with dual ROCK1/2 and MRCKα/β (DJ4 and DJ110).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1060
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery

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