Activation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathway has been implicated in mediating a diverse array of cellular functions including cell differentiation, proliferation, and inflammatory responses. In this review, we will discuss approaches to identify inhibitors of ERK proteins through targeting ATP-dependent and ATPindependent mechanisms. Given the diversity of ERK substrates and the importance of ERK signaling in normal cell functions, emphasis will be placed on the methods for identifying small molecular weight compounds that are substrate selective through ATP-independent interactions and potentially relevant to inflammatory processes. The approach for selective targeting of ERK substrates takes advantage of the basic understanding of unique ERK docking domains that are thought to interact with specific amino acid sequences on substrate proteins. Computer aided drug design (CADD) can facilitate the high throughput screening of millions of compounds with the potential for selective interactions with ERK docking domains and disruption of substrate interactions. As such, the CADD approach significantly reduces the number of compounds that will be evaluated in subsequent biological assays and greatly increases the hit rate of biologically active compounds. The potentially active compounds are evaluated for ERK protein binding using spectroscopic and structural biology methods. Compounds that show ERK interactions are then tested for their ability to inhibit substrate interactions and phosphorylation as well as ERK-dependent functions in whole organism or cell-based assays. Finally, the relevance of substrate-selective ERK inhibitors in the context of inflammatory disease will be discussed.
Keywords: Extracellular signal-regulated kinase, mitogen-activated protein kinases, signal transduction, computer aided drug design, docking domains
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