Eukaryotic elongation factor 2 kinase as a drug target in cancer, and in cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases

Authors: Rui LIU, Christopher G PROUD
DOI: 10.1038/aps.2015.123


Eukaryotic elongation factor 2 kinase (eEF2K) is an unusual protein kinase that regulates the elongation stage of protein synthesis by phosphorylating and inhibiting its only known substrate, eEF2. Elongation is a highly energy-consuming process, and eEF2K activity is tightly regulated by several signaling pathways. Regulating translation elongation can modulate the cellular energy demand and may also control the expression of specific proteins. Growing evidence links eEF2K to a range of human diseases, including cardiovascular conditions (atherosclerosis, via macrophage survival) and pulmonary arterial hypertension, as well as solid tumors, where eEF2K appears to play contrasting roles depending on tumor type and stage. eEF2K is also involved in neurological disorders and may be a valuable target in treating depression and certain neurodegenerative diseases. Because eEF2K is not required for mammalian development or cell viability, inhibiting its function may not elicit serious side effects, while the fact that it is an atypical kinase and quite distinct from the vast majority of other mammalian kinases suggests the possibility to develop it into compounds that inhibit eEF2K without affecting other important protein kinases. Further research is needed to explore these possibilities and there is an urgent need to identify and characterize potent and specific small-molecule inhibitors of eEF2K. In this article we review the recent evidence concerning the role of eEF2K in human diseases as well as the progress in developing small-molecule inhibitors of this enzyme.
Keywords: mRNA translation; eEF2K; α-kinase; cardiovascular disease; hypertension; atherosclerosis; cancer; neurodegenerative disease; Alzheimer’s disease; depression

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