Selective targeting of the inactive state of hematopoietic cell kinase (Hck) with a stable curcumin derivative

J Biol Chem. 2021 Feb 19;100449. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2021.100449. Online ahead of print.


Hck, a Src family non-receptor tyrosine kinase (SFK), has recently been established as an attractive pharmacological target to improve pulmonary function in COVID-19 patients. Hck inhibitors are also well known for their regulatory role in various malignancies and autoimmune diseases. Curcumin has been previously identified as an excellent DYRK-2 inhibitor, but curcumin's fate is tainted by its instability in the cellular environment. Besides, small molecules targeting the inactive states of a kinase are desirable to reduce promiscuity. Here, we show that functionalization of the 4-arylidene position of the fluorescent curcumin scaffold with an aryl nitrogen mustard provides a stable Hck inhibitor (Kd = 50 ± 10 nM). The mustard curcumin derivative preferentially interacts with the inactive conformation of Hck, similar to type-II kinase inhibitors that are less promiscuous. Moreover, the lead compound showed no inhibitory effect on three other kinases (DYRK2, Src and Abl). We demonstrate that the cytotoxicity may be mediated via inhibition of the SFK signalling pathway in triple-negative breast cancer and murine macrophage cells. Our data suggest that curcumin is a modifiable fluorescent scaffold to develop selective kinase inhibitors by remodelling its target affinity and cellular stability.

Keywords: Hck inhibitor; Src family kinase; cell-signalling; curcumin derivative; enzyme kinetics; kinase inhibition.