Background: Glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) is a serine/threonine protein kinase, the activity of which is inhibited by a variety of extracellular stimuli including insulin, growth factors, cell specification factors and cell adhesion. Consequently, inhibition of GSK-3 activity has been proposed to play a role in the regulation of numerous signalling pathways that elicit pleiotropic cellular responses. This report describes the identification and characterisation of potent and selective small molecule inhibitors of GSK-3.
Results: SB-216763 and SB-415286 are structurally distinct maleimides that inhibit GSK-3alpha in vitro, with K(i)s of 9 nM and 31 nM respectively, in an ATP competitive manner. These compounds inhibited GSK-3beta with similar potency. However, neither compound significantly inhibited any member of a panel of 24 other protein kinases. Furthermore, treatment of cells with either compound stimulated responses characteristic of extracellular stimuli that are known to inhibit GSK-3 activity. Thus, SB-216763 and SB-415286 stimulated glycogen synthesis in human liver cells and induced expression of a beta-catenin-LEF/TCF regulated reporter gene in HEK293 cells. In both cases, compound treatment was demonstrated to inhibit cellular GSK-3 activity as assessed by activation of glycogen synthase, which is a direct target of this kinase.
Conclusions: SB-216763 and SB-415286 are novel, potent and selective cell permeable inhibitors of GSK-3. Therefore, these compounds represent valuable pharmacological tools with which the role of GSK-3 in cellular signalling can be further elucidated. Furthermore, development of similar compounds may be of use therapeutically in disease states associated with elevated GSK-3 activity such as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and neurodegenerative disease.