Harmine is a β-carboline alkaloid. The compound is a potent inhibitor of dual-specificity tyrosine phosphorylation-regulated kinase 1A (Dyrk1A), a kinase implicated in Down syndrome. In this study, we show that harmine functions as an ATP-competitive inhibitor against Dyrk1A. Our conclusion is supported by kinetic analysis of harmine inhibition as well as by the characterization of a Dyrk1A mutation conferring significant resistance to harmine. The mutation, V306A, is located next to the highly conserved D307 residue in kinases known to coordinate the phosphate groups of ATP through a Mg²+ ion. The V306A mutation offers harmine resistance by differentially altering Dyrk1A affinity for harmine and ATP. The V306A mutation causes no apparent alteration to Dyrk1A activity except for the reduction in ATP affinity. This deficiency could be fully compensated by supplying ATP with a concentration in the physiological range. Our results reveal that harmine inhibits Dyrk1A activity by interacting with residues in the ATP-binding pocket and displacing ATP. Our results also suggest that harmine will be a good lead compound for further designing of selective ATP-competitive Dyrk1A inhibitors through exploration of the ATP-binding pocket of Dyrk1A.
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