Structural basis for the action of the drug trametinib at KSR-bound MEK

Nature. 2020 Dec;588(7838):509-514. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2760-4. Epub 2020 Sep 14.


The MAPK/ERK kinase MEK is a shared effector of the frequent cancer drivers KRAS and BRAF that has long been pursued as a drug target in oncology1, and more recently in immunotherapy2,3 and ageing4. However, many MEK inhibitors are limited owing to on-target toxicities5-7 and drug resistance8-10. Accordingly, a molecular understanding of the structure and function of MEK within physiological complexes could provide a template for the design of safer and more effective therapies. Here we report X-ray crystal structures of MEK bound to the scaffold KSR (kinase suppressor of RAS) with various MEK inhibitors, including the clinical drug trametinib. The structures reveal an unexpected mode of binding in which trametinib directly engages KSR at the MEK interface. In the bound complex, KSR remodels the prototypical allosteric pocket of the MEK inhibitor, thereby affecting binding and kinetics, including the drug-residence time. Moreover, trametinib binds KSR-MEK but disrupts the related RAF-MEK complex through a mechanism that exploits evolutionarily conserved interface residues that distinguish these sub-complexes. On the basis of these insights, we created trametiglue, which limits adaptive resistance to MEK inhibition by enhancing interfacial binding. Our results reveal the plasticity of an interface pocket within MEK sub-complexes and have implications for the design of next-generation drugs that target the RAS pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / chemistry*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinases / chemistry*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Pyridones / chemistry*
  • Pyridones / pharmacology*
  • Pyrimidinones / chemistry*
  • Pyrimidinones / pharmacology*
  • Substrate Specificity
  • raf Kinases / chemistry
  • raf Kinases / metabolism


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyridones
  • Pyrimidinones
  • trametinib
  • Protein Kinases
  • KSR-1 protein kinase
  • raf Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases