The actin-myosin regulatory MRCK kinases: regulation, biological functions and associations with human cancer

J Mol Med (Berl). 2014 Mar;92(3):217-25. doi: 10.1007/s00109-014-1133-6. Epub 2014 Feb 20.


The contractile actin-myosin cytoskeleton provides much of the force required for numerous cellular activities such as motility, adhesion, cytokinesis and changes in morphology. Key elements that respond to various signal pathways are the myosin II regulatory light chains (MLC), which participate in actin-myosin contraction by modulating the ATPase activity and consequent contractile force generation mediated by myosin heavy chain heads. Considerable effort has focussed on the role of MLC kinases, and yet the contributions of the myotonic dystrophy-related Cdc42-binding kinases (MRCK) proteins in MLC phosphorylation and cytoskeleton regulation have not been well characterized. In contrast to the closely related ROCK1 and ROCK2 kinases that are regulated by the RhoA and RhoC GTPases, there is relatively little information about the CDC42-regulated MRCKα, MRCKβ and MRCKγ members of the AGC (PKA, PKG and PKC) kinase family. As well as differences in upstream activation pathways, MRCK and ROCK kinases apparently differ in the way that they spatially regulate MLC phosphorylation, which ultimately affects their influence on the organization and dynamics of the actin-myosin cytoskeleton. In this review, we will summarize the MRCK protein structures, expression patterns, small molecule inhibitors, biological functions and associations with human diseases such as cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase / chemistry
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Substrate Specificity / drug effects


  • Actins
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase