Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are characterized by the activated JAK2/STAT pathway. Pleckstrin-2 (Plek2) is a downstream target of the JAK2/STAT5 pathway and is overexpressed in patients with MPNs. We previously revealed that Plek2 plays critical roles in the pathogenesis of JAK2-mutated MPNs. The nonessential roles of Plek2 under physiologic conditions make it an ideal target for MPN therapy. Here, we identified first-in-class Plek2 inhibitors through an in silico high-throughput screening approach and cell-based assays, followed by the synthesis of analogs. Plek2-specific small-molecule inhibitors showed potent inhibitory effects on cell proliferation. Mechanistically, Plek2 interacts with and enhances the activity of Akt through the recruitment of downstream effector proteins. The Plek2-signaling complex also includes Hsp72, which protects Akt from degradation. These functions were blocked by Plek2 inhibitors via their direct binding to the Plek2 dishevelled, Egl-10 and pleckstrin (DEP) domain. The role of Plek2 in activating Akt signaling was further confirmed in vivo using a hematopoietic-specific Pten-knockout mouse model. We next tested Plek2 inhibitors alone or in combination with an Akt inhibitor in various MPN mouse models, which showed significant therapeutic efficacies similar to that seen with the genetic depletion of Plek2. The Plek2 inhibitor was also effective in reducing proliferation of CD34-positive cells from MPN patients. Our studies reveal a Plek2/Akt complex that drives cell proliferation and can be targeted by a class of antiproliferative compounds for MPN therapy.
Xu Han, Yang Mei, Rama K. Mishra, Honghao Bi, Atul D. Jain, Gary E. Schiltz, Baobing Zhao, Madina Sukhanova, Pan Wang, Arabela A. Grigorescu, Patricia C. Weber, John J. Piwinski, Miguel A. Prado, Joao A. Paulo, Len Stephens, Karen E. Anderson, Charles S. Abrams, Jing Yang, Peng Ji