Extracellular signals regulate most of the bodys physiological functions through the MAP kinase signaling pathways. These MAP kinase signaling pathways are normally under tight regulation such that activation and inactivation occurs only when needed. However, aberrant regulation observed with naturally occurring mutations in specific signaling proteins often results in constitutive activation of the MAP kinases and is involved in several pathophysiological conditions, such as cancer, neurodegeneration, and inflammation. As such, much effort has been expended to develop inhibitory molecules of the MAP kinase signaling pathways. Several compounds have been identified that inhibit MAP kinase signaling by targeting receptors or other proteins upstream of the MAP kinases. The development of specific inhibitors of the MAP kinases themselves has been less successful and only a few compounds, which interfere with ATP binding, have been identified. A common problem with kinase inhibitors that compete with ATP binding is their lack of specificity. Thus, alternative approaches to inhibit MAP kinase function are being sought. The MAP kinase proteins contain docking domains that direct the interactions with a variety of substrate proteins. Using the 3-dimensional structure of MAP kinases and computer modeling, molecules that target specific docking domains and selectively disrupt substrate interactions are being developed. This non-ATP interfering approach may allow the selective inhibition of MAP kinase substrates involved in disease processes while preserving MAP kinase functions associated with normal cells.
Keywords: Mitogen activated protein kinase, extracellular signal-regulated kinase, signal transduction, computer-aided drug design, database screening