Target-Driven Design of a Coumarinyl Chalcone Scaffold Based Novel EF2 Kinase Inhibitor Suppresses Breast Cancer Growth in Vivo

Ferah Comert Onder, Nermin Kahraman, Esen Bellur Atici, Ali Cagir, Hakan Kandemir, Gizem Tatar, Tugba Taskin Tok, Goknur Kara, Bekir Karliga, Serdar Durdagi, Mehmet Ay, Bulent Ozpolat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Eukaryotic elongation factor 2 kinase (eEF-2K) is an unusual alpha kinase involved in protein synthesis through phosphorylation of elongation factor 2 (EF2). eEF-2K is highly overexpressed in breast cancer, and its activity is associated with significantly shortened patient survival and proven to be a potential molecular target in breast cancer. The crystal structure of eEF-2K remains unknown, and there is no potent, safe, and effective inhibitor available for clinical applications. We designed and synthesized several generations of potential inhibitors. The effect of the inhibitors at the binding pocket of eEF-2K was analyzed after developing a 3D target model by using a domain of another α-kinase called myosin heavy-chain kinase A (MHCKA) that closely resembles eEF-2K. In silico studies showed that compounds with a coumarin-chalcone core have high predicted binding affinities for eEF-2K. Using in vitro studies in highly aggressive and invasive (MDA-MB-436, MDA-MB-231, and BT20) and noninvazive (MCF-7) breast cancer cells, we identified a lead compound that was highly effective in inhibiting eEF-2K activity at submicromolar concentrations and at inhibiting cell proliferation by induction of apoptosis with no toxicity in normal breast epithelial cells. In vivo systemic administration of the lead compound encapsulated in single lipid-based liposomal nanoparticles twice a week significantly suppressed growth of MDA-MB-231 tumors in orthotopic breast cancer models in nude mice with no observed toxicity. In conclusion, our study provides a highly potent and in vivo effective novel small-molecule eEF-2K inhibitor that may be used as a molecularly targeted therapy breast cancer or other eEF-2K-dependent tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)926-940
Number of pages15
JournalACS Pharmacology and Translational Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 9 2021


  • EF2K
  • apoptosis
  • breast cancer
  • coumarin
  • elongation factor 2 kinase
  • molecular modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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