Accumulation of unfolded proteins in the endoplasmic occurs when the cell is subject to stress caused by various pathological conditions such as hypoxia, viral infection, and glucose depravation. Under such stress the cell will initiate an unfolded protein response (UPR), a protective mechanism that is specifically designed to re‐establish homeostasis and normal endoplasmic reticulum (ER) function. This adaptive mechanism inhibits overall protein translation, but enhances the translation of a small number of key stress response proteins that will clear the ER of unfolded proteins and send them to the cytoplasm for degradation. The UPR is initiated by several proteins such as IRE1a, ATF6a and PERK, the later being a key Ser/Thr protein kinase in UPR signaling. In response to inducers of ER stress, BiP (GRP78) dissociates from the luminal ER domain of PERK, resulting in the oligomerization, autophosphorylation, and activation of PERK which in turn phosphorylates eIF‐2a on Ser51 and Nrf2 (unknown site of phosphorylation). In order to further identify potential substrates for PERK, this enzyme was tested against large protein and peptide microarrays. A significant number of proteins and peptides in the microarrays were found to be phosphorylated by PERK. After additional selection, several of these substrates were further characterized using a microfluidic mobility‐shift assay and submitted to LC/MS analysis to identify the site of phosphorylation by PERK. These newly identified peptide substrates were used to develop a robust biochemical assay for the testing of small molecule inhibitors of PERK activity. A limited SAR was established for a set of compounds against PERK and two other related protein kinases, GCN2 and PKR. One of the most potent and selective PERK inhibitors was found to modulate PERK cellular signaling as evidenced by blocking the phosphorylation of (Ser51)eIF‐2a as judged by Elisa and Western blot analysis.

Citation Information: Mol Cancer Ther 2009;8(12 Suppl):B258.