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Open Access Review

Polo-like kinase 1 as target for cancer therapy

Lily Weiß and Thomas Efferth*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pharmaceutical Biology, Institute of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, Johannes Gutenberg University, Staudinger Weg 5, 55128, Mainz, Germany

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Experimental Hematology & Oncology 2012, 1:38  doi:10.1186/2162-3619-1-38

Published: 10 December 2012


Polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1) is an interesting molecule both as a biomarker and as a target for highly specific cancer therapy for several reasons. Firstly, it is over-expressed in many cancers and can serve as a biomarker to monitor treatment efficacy of Plk1 inhibitors. Furthermore, the Plk1 enzyme is expressed only in dividing cells and is a major regulator of the cell cycle. It controls entry into mitosis and regulates the spindle checkpoint. The expression of Plk1 in normal cells is not nearly as strong as that in cancer cells, which makes Plk1 a discriminating tartget for the development of cancer-specific small molecule drugs. RNA interference experiments in vitro and in vivo have indicated that downregulation of Plk1 expression represents an attractive concept for cancer therapy. Over the years, a number of Plk1 inhibitors have been discovered. Many of these inhibitors are substances that compete with ATP for the substrate binding site. The ATP-competitive inhibitor BI 6727 is currently being clinically tested in cancer patients. Another drug in development, poloxin, is the first Polo-box domain inhibitor of Plk1. This compound is a derivative of the natural product, thymoquinone, derived from Nigella sativa. A novel and promising strategy is to synthesize bifunctional inhibitors that combine the high binding affinity of ATP inhibitors with the specificity of competitive inhibitors.

Small molecules; Kinase; Prognostic marker; Targeted chemotherapy