Interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinases (IRAKs) are key components in the signal transduction pathways utilized by interleukin-1 receptor (IL-1R), interleukin-18 receptor (IL-18R), and Toll-like receptors (TLRs). Out of four members in the mammalian IRAK family, IRAK-4 is considered to be the “master IRAK”, the only family member indispensable for IL-1R/TLR signaling. In humans, mutations resulting in IRAK-4 deficiency have been linked to susceptibility to bacterial infections, especially recurrent pyogenic bacterial infections. Furthermore, knock-in experiments by several groups have clearly demonstrated that IRAK-4 requires its kinase activity for its function. Given the critical role of IRAK-4 in inflammatory processes, modulation of IRAK-4 kinase activity presents an attractive therapeutic approach for the treatment of immune and inflammatory diseases. The recent success in the determination of the 3-dimensional structure of the IRAK-4 kinase domain in complex with inhibitors has facilitated the understanding of the mechanistic role of IRAK-4 in immunity and inflammation as well as the development of specific IRAK-4 kinase inhibitors. In this article, we review the biological function of IRAK-4, the structural characteristics of the kinase domain, and the development of small molecule inhibitors targeting the kinase activity. We also review the key pharmacophores required for several classes of inhibitors as well as important features for optimal protein/inhibitor interactions. Lastly, we summarize how these insights can be translated into strategies to develop potent IRAK-4 inhibitors with desired properties as new anti-inflammatory therapeutic agents.
Keywords: Interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase (IRAK), IRAK-4 inhibitors, kinase inhibitors, binding mode, X-ray crystal structure