Many current chemotherapies function by damaging genomic DNA in rapidly dividing cells ultimately leading to cell death. This therapeutic approach differentially targets cancer cells that generally display rapid cell division compared to normal tissue cells. However, although these treatments are initially effective in arresting tumor growth and reducing tumor burden, resistance and disease progression eventually occur. A major mechanism underlying this resistance is increased levels of cellular DNA repair. Most cells have complex mechanisms in place to repair DNA damage that occurs due to environmental exposures or normal metabolic processes. These systems, initially overwhelmed when faced with chemotherapy induced DNA damage, become more efficient under constant selective pressure and as a result chemotherapies become less effective. Thus, inhibiting DNA repair pathways using target specific small molecule inhibitors may overcome cellular resistance to DNA damaging chemotherapies. Non-homologous end joining a major mechanism for the repair of double-strand breaks (DSB) in DNA is regulated in part by the serine/threonine kinase, DNA dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK). The DNA-PK holoenzyme acts as a scaffold protein tethering broken DNA ends and recruiting other repair molecules. It also has enzymatic activity that may be involved in DNA damage signaling. Because of its' central role in repair of DSBs, DNA-PK has been the focus of a number of small molecule studies. In these studies specific DNA-PK inhibitors have shown efficacy in synergizing chemotherapies in vitro. However, compounds currently known to specifically inhibit DNA-PK are limited by poor pharmacokinetics: these compounds have poor solubility and have high metabolic lability in vivo leading to short serum half-lives. Future improvement in DNA-PK inhibition will likely be achieved by designing new molecules based on the recently reported crystallographic structure of DNA-PK. Computer based drug design will not only assist in identifying novel functional moieties to replace the metabolically labile morpholino group but will also facilitate the design of molecules to target the DNA-PKcs/Ku80 interface or one of the autophosphorylation sites.
Keywords: DNA damage; DNA repair; DNA-PK; DNA-PK inhibitors; DNA-PKcs.