Investigating the Kinetic Mechanism of Inhibition of Elongation Factor 2 Kinase by NH125: Evidence of a Common in Vitro Artifact

Evidence that elongation factor 2 kinase (eEF-2K) has potential as a target for anticancer therapy and possibly for the treatment of depression is emerging. Here the steady-state kinetic mechanism of eEF-2K is presented using a peptide substrate and is shown to conform to an ordered sequential mechanism with ATP binding first. Substrate inhibition by the peptide was observed and revealed to be competitive with ATP, explaining the observed ordered mechanism. Several small molecules are reported to inhibit eEF-2K activity with the most notable being the histidine kinase inhibitor NH125, which has been used in a number of studies to characterize eEF-2K activity in cells. While NH125 was previously reported to inhibit eEF-2K in vitro with an IC50 of 60 nM, its mechanism of action was not established. Using the same kinetic assay, the ability of an authentic sample of NH125 to inhibit eEF-2K was assessed over a range of substrate and inhibitor concentrations. A typical dose–response curve for the inhibition of eEF-2K by NH125 is best fit to an IC50 of 18 ± 0.25 μM and a Hill coefficient of 3.7 ± 0.14, suggesting that NH125 is a weak inhibitor of eEF-2K under the experimental conditions of a standard in vitro kinase assay. To test the possibility that NH125 is a potent inhibitor of eEF2 phosphorylation, we assessed its ability to inhibit the phosphorylation of eEF2. Under standard kinase assay conditions, NH125 exhibits a similar weak ability to inhibit the phosphorylation of eEF2 by eEF-2K. Notably, the activity of NH125 is severely abrogated by the addition of 0.1% Triton to the kinase assay through a process that can be reversed upon dilution. These studies suggest that NH125 is a nonspecific colloidal aggregator in vitro, a notion further supported by the observation that NH125 inhibits other protein kinases, such as ERK2 and TRPM7 in a manner similar to that of eEF-2K. As NH125 is reported to inhibit eEF-2K in a cellular environment, its ability to inhibit eEF2 phosphorylation was assessed in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer, A549 lung cancer, and HEK-293T cell lines using a Western blot approach. No sign of a decrease in the level of eEF2 phosphorylation was observed up to 12 h following addition of NH125 to the media. Furthermore, contrary to the previously reported literatures, NH125 induced the phosphorylation of eEF-2.