Gene Summary

Gene:MELK; maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase
Aliases: HPK38
Databases:OMIM, HGNC, Ensembl, GeneCard, Gene
Protein:maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase
Source:NCBIAccessed: 31 August, 2019


What does this gene/protein do?
Show (16)

Cancer Overview

Research Indicators

Publications Per Year (1994-2019)
Graph generated 31 August 2019 using data from PubMed using criteria.

Literature Analysis

Mouse over the terms for more detail; many indicate links which you can click for dedicated pages about the topic.

  • Brain Tumours
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Chromosome 9
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Gene Expression
  • Phosphorylation
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • siRNA
  • Xenograft Models
  • Talin
  • Messenger RNA
  • Breast Cancer
  • Down-Regulation
  • Ultraviolet Rays
  • p53 Protein
  • Tumor Burden
  • Transcriptome
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Stomach Cancer
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Stem Cells
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Up-Regulation
  • Spliceosomes
  • Survival
  • Cancer Gene Expression Regulation
  • RT-PCR
  • Glioblastoma
  • Brain Tumours
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Brain Stem Glioma, Childhood
  • Wnt1 Protein
  • Cell Movement
  • RNA Interference
  • Ubiquitin-Conjugating Enzymes
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Naphthyridines
  • Signal Transduction
  • Cluster Analysis
Tag cloud generated 31 August, 2019 using data from PubMed, MeSH and CancerIndex

Specific Cancers (5)

Data table showing topics related to specific cancers and associated disorders. Scope includes mutations and abnormal protein expression.

Note: list is not exhaustive. Number of papers are based on searches of PubMed (click on topic title for arbitrary criteria used).

Latest Publications: MELK (cancer-related)

Qiu J, Du Z, Wang Y, et al.
Weighted gene co-expression network analysis reveals modules and hub genes associated with the development of breast cancer.
Medicine (Baltimore). 2019; 98(6):e14345 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
This study aimed to identify modules associated with breast cancer (BC) development by constructing a gene co-expression network, and mining hub genes that may serve as markers of invasive breast cancer (IBC).We downloaded 2 gene expression datasets from the Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) database, and used weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) to dynamically study the changes of co-expression genes in normal breast tissues, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) tissues, and IBC tissues. Modules that highly correlated with BC development were carried out functional enrichment analysis for annotation, visualization, and integration discovery. The hub genes detected by WGCNA were also confirmed using the Oncomine dataset.We detected 17 transcriptional modules in total and 4 - namely tan, greenyellow, turquoise, and brown - were highly correlated with BC development. The functions of these 4 modules mainly concerned cell migration (tan module, P = 3.03 × 10), the cell cycle (greenyellow module, P = 3.08 × 10), cell-cell adhesion (turquoise module, P = .002), and the extracellular exosome (brown module, P = 1.38 × 10). WGCNA also mined the hub genes, which were highly correlated with the genes in the same module and with BC development. The Oncomine database confirmed that the expressions levels of 6 hub genes were significantly higher in BC tissues than in normal tissues, with fold changes larger than 2 (all P < .05). Apart from the 2 well-known genes EPCAM and MELK, during the development of BC, KRT8, KRT19, KPNA2, and ECT2 also play key roles, and may be used as new targets for the detection or treatment of BC.In summary, our study demonstrated that hub genes such as EPCAM and MELK are highly correlated with breast cancer development. However, KRT8, KRT19, KPNA2, and ECT2 may also have potential as diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of IBC.

Ren L, Deng B, Saloura V, et al.
MELK inhibition targets cancer stem cells through downregulation of SOX2 expression in head and neck cancer cells.
Oncol Rep. 2019; 41(4):2540-2548 [PubMed] Related Publications
Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) has been reported to serve critical roles in the maintenance of stemness of cancer cells, although its mechanism remains unclear. Since SRY‑box 2 (SOX2) was demonstrated to be involved in self‑renewal and tumorigenicity of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and is aberrantly expressed in HNSCC tumors, the association between MELK and SOX2 was examined. Firstly, MELK inhibition was performed by small interfering RNA or MELK inhibitor OTS167, and it was determined that MELK inhibition by these approaches could decrease the SOX2 expression in HNSCC cells and OTS167 could suppress the SOX2 expression in a dose‑dependent manner. The present results indicated that MELK inhibition may target cancer stem cells (CSCs) through downregulation of the SOX2 gene. To further confirm the transcriptional regulation of SOX2, the transcription factors (TFs) were screened for SOX2 using a promoter‑binding TF assay followed by reverse transcription‑quantitative polymerase chain reaction and a decrease of the majority of the SOX2 TFs following MELK knockdown was observed. The present results provide evidence that MELK serves a key role in CSCs through the regulation of SOX2 and further indicates that MELK inhibition may also be promising for clinical applications in the treatment of HNSCC.

Sun C, Cheng X, Wang C, et al.
Gene expression profiles analysis identifies a novel two-gene signature to predict overall survival in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Biosci Rep. 2019; 39(1) [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most common hematologic malignancy, however, specific tumor-associated genes and signaling pathways are yet to be deciphered. Differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were computed based on gene expression profiles from GSE32018, GSE56315, and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) DLBC. Overlapping DEGs were then evaluated for gene ontology (GO), pathways enrichment, DNA methylation, protein-protein interaction (PPI) network analysis as well as survival analysis. Seventy-four up-regulated and 79 down-regulated DEGs were identified. From PPI network analysis, majority of the DEGs were involved in cell cycle, oocyte meiosis, and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) pathways. Six hub genes including

Zhang Y, Zhou X, Li Y, et al.
Inhibition of maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase with OTSSP167 displays potent anti-leukemic effects in chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Oncogene. 2018; 37(41):5520-5533 [PubMed] Related Publications
TP53 pathway defects contributed to therapy resistance and adverse clinical outcome in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which represents an unmet clinical need with few therapeutic options. Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) is a novel oncogene, which plays crucial roles in mitotic progression and stem cell maintenance. OTSSP167, an orally administrated inhibitor targeting MELK, is currently in a phase I/II clinical trial in patients with advanced breast cancer and acute myeloid leukemia. Yet, no investigation has been elucidated to date regarding the oncogenic role of MELK and effects of OTSSP167 in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Previous studies confirmed MELK inhibition abrogated cancer cell survival via p53 signaling pathway. Thus, we aimed to determine the biological function of MELK and therapeutic potential of OTSSP167 in CLL. Herein, MELK over-expression was observed in CLL cells, and correlated with higher WBC count, advanced stage, elevated LDH, increased β2-MG level, unmutated IGHV, positive ZAP-70, deletion of 17p13 and inferior prognosis of CLL patients. In accordance with functional enrichment analyses in gene expression profiling, CLL cells with depletion or inhibition of MELK exhibited impaired cell proliferation, enhanced fast-onset apoptosis, induced G2/M arrest, attenuated cell chemotaxis and promoted sensitivity to fludarabine and ibrutinib. However, gain-of-function assay showed increased cell proliferation and cell chemotaxis. In addition, OTSSP167 treatment reduced phosphorylation of AKT and ERK1/2. It decreased FoxM1 phosphorylation, expression of FoxM1, cyclin B1 and CDK1, while up-regulating p53 and p21 expression. Taken together, MELK served as a candidate of therapeutic target in CLL. OTSSP167 exhibits potent anti-tumor activities in CLL cells, highlighting a novel molecule-based strategy for leukemic interventions.

Kiseljak-Vassiliades K, Zhang Y, Kar A, et al.
Elucidating the Role of the Maternal Embryonic Leucine Zipper Kinase in Adrenocortical Carcinoma.
Endocrinology. 2018; 159(7):2532-2544 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive cancer with a 5-year survival rate <35%. Mortality remains high due to lack of targeted therapies. Using bioinformatic analyses, we identified maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) as 4.1-fold overexpressed in ACC compared with normal adrenal samples. High MELK expression in human tumors correlated with shorter survival and with increased expression of genes involved in cell division and growth. We investigated the functional effects of MELK inhibition using newly developed ACC cell lines with variable MELK expression, CU-ACC1 and CU-ACC2, compared with H295R cells. In vitro treatment with the MELK inhibitor, OTSSP167, resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in rates of cell proliferation, colony formation, and cell survival, with relative sensitivity of each ACC cell line based upon the level of MELK overexpression. To confirm a MELK-specific antitumorigenic effect, MELK was inhibited in H295R cells via multiple short hairpin RNAs. MELK silencing resulted in 1.9-fold decrease in proliferation, and 3- to 10-fold decrease in colony formation in soft agar and clonogenicity assays, respectively. In addition, although MELK silencing had no effect on survival in normoxia, exposure to a hypoxia resulted in a sixfold and eightfold increase in apoptosis as assessed by caspase-3 activation and TUNEL, respectively. Together these data suggest that MELK is a modulator of tumor cell growth and survival in a hypoxic microenvironment in adrenal cancer cells and support future investigation of its role as a therapeutic kinase target in patients with ACC.

Wang K, Zhu X, Yao Y, et al.
Corosolic acid induces cell cycle arrest and cell apoptosis in human retinoblastoma Y-79 cells via disruption of MELK-FoxM1 signaling.
Oncol Rep. 2018; 39(6):2777-2786 [PubMed] Related Publications
Retinoblastoma (Rb) is the most frequent primary intraocular tumor usually diagnosed in infants and children, and current therapy for such disease is still limited. Corosolic acid (CA), an ursane-type pentacyclic triterpene, has been assessed as a promising anticancer agent with little impact on untransformed cells. In the present study, we investigated the cytotoxic effect and underlying mechanism of CA on human retinoblastoma Y-79 cells. The viability of cells was verified by MTT assay. Cell cycle and apoptosis were evaluated by flow cytometric analysis. The expressions and activities of the related molecules were assessed by western blot analysis and luciferase assay. The results demonstrated that the treatment of CA dose-dependently induced cytotoxicity, cell cycle arrest and cell apoptosis in Y-79 cells. Furthermore, MELK-FoxM1 signaling was estimated to be involved in the cytotoxic effect of CA on Y-79 cells, and CA exerted its activity mainly through inhibition of the expression levels of MELK and FoxM1 as well as through suppression of the transcriptional activity of FoxM1 driven by itself or MELK. Our findings establish MELK-FoxM1 signaling as a promising therapeutic target for human retinoblastoma, and suggest the potential development of CA and its derivatives as novel drug candidates against this disease.

Jurmeister S, Ramos-Montoya A, Sandi C, et al.
Identification of potential therapeutic targets in prostate cancer through a cross-species approach.
EMBO Mol Med. 2018; 10(3) [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Genetically engineered mouse models of cancer can be used to filter genome-wide expression datasets generated from human tumours and to identify gene expression alterations that are functionally important to cancer development and progression. In this study, we have generated RNAseq data from tumours arising in two established mouse models of prostate cancer, PB-Cre/Pten

Giuliano CJ, Lin A, Smith JC, et al.
MELK expression correlates with tumor mitotic activity but is not required for cancer growth.
Elife. 2018; 7 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
The Maternal Embryonic Leucine Zipper Kinase (MELK) has been identified as a promising therapeutic target in multiple cancer types. MELK over-expression is associated with aggressive disease, and MELK has been implicated in numerous cancer-related processes, including chemotherapy resistance, stem cell renewal, and tumor growth. Previously, we established that triple-negative breast cancer cell lines harboring CRISPR/Cas9-induced null mutations in MELK proliferate at wild-type levels in vitro (Lin et al., 2017). Here, we generate several additional knockout clones of MELK and demonstrate that across cancer types, cells lacking MELK exhibit wild-type growth in vitro, under environmental stress, in the presence of cytotoxic chemotherapies, and in vivo. By combining our MELK-knockout clones with a recently described, highly specific MELK inhibitor, we further demonstrate that the acute inhibition of MELK results in no specific anti-proliferative phenotype. Analysis of gene expression data from cohorts of cancer patients identifies MELK expression as a correlate of tumor mitotic activity, explaining its association with poor clinical prognosis. In total, our results demonstrate the power of CRISPR/Cas9-based genetic approaches to investigate cancer drug targets, and call into question the rationale for treating patients with anti-MELK monotherapies.

Piao J, Sun J, Yang Y, et al.
Target gene screening and evaluation of prognostic values in non-small cell lung cancers by bioinformatics analysis.
Gene. 2018; 647:306-311 [PubMed] Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the major leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. This study aims to explore molecular mechanism of NSCLC.
METHODS: Microarray dataset was obtained from the Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) database, and analyzed by using GEO2R. Functional and pathway enrichment analysis were performed based on Gene Ontology (GO) and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) database. Then, STRING, Cytoscape and MCODE were applied to construct the Protein-protein interaction (PPI) network and screen hub genes. Following, overall survival (OS) analysis of hub genes was performed by using the Kaplan-Meier plotter online tool. Moreover, miRecords was also applied to predict the targets of the differentially expressed microRNAs (DEMs).
RESULTS: A total of 228 DEGs were identified, and they were mainly enriched in the terms of cell adhesion molecules, leukocyte transendothelial migration and ECM-receptor interaction. A PPI network was constructed, and 16 hub genes were identified, including TEK, ANGPT1, MMP9, VWF, CDH5, EDN1, ESAM, CCNE1, CDC45, PRC1, CCNB2, AURKA, MELK, CDC20, TOP2A and PTTG1. Among the genes, expressions of 14 hub genes were associated with prognosis of NSCLC patients. Additionally, a total of 11 DEMs were also identified.
CONCLUSION: Our results provide some potential underlying biomarkers for NSCLC. Further studies are required to elucidate the pathogenesis of NSCLC.

Budczies J, Denkert C, Győrffy B, et al.
Chromosome 9p copy number gains involving PD-L1 are associated with a specific proliferation and immune-modulating gene expression program active across major cancer types.
BMC Med Genomics. 2017; 10(1):74 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Inhibition of the PD-L1/PD-1 immune checkpoint axis represents one of the most promising approaches of immunotherapy for various cancer types. However, immune checkpoint inhibition is successful only in subpopulations of patients emphasizing the need for powerful biomarkers that adequately reflect the complex interaction between the tumor and the immune system. Recently, recurrent copy number gains (CNG) in chromosome 9p involving PD-L1 were detected in many cancer types including lung cancer, melanoma, bladder cancer, head and neck cancer, cervical cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, prostate cancer, gastric cancer, ovarian cancer, and triple-negative breast cancer.
METHODS: Here, we applied functional genomics to analyze global mRNA expression changes associated with chromosome 9p gains. Using the TCGA data set, we identified a list of 75 genes that were strongly up-regulated in tumors with chromosome 9p gains across many cancer types.
RESULTS: As expected, the gene set was enriched for chromosome 9p and in particular chromosome 9p24 (36 genes and 23 genes). Furthermore, we found enrichment of two expression programs derived from genes within and beyond 9p: one implicated in cell cycle regulation (22 genes) and the other implicated in modulation of the immune system (16 genes). Among these were specific cytokines and chemokines, e.g. CCL4, CCL8, CXCL10, CXCL11, other immunoregulatory genes such as IFN-G and IDO1 as well as highly expressed proliferation-related kinases and genes including PLK1, TTK, MELK and CDC20 that represent potential drug targets.
CONCLUSIONS: Collectively, these data shed light on mechanisms of immune escape and stimulation of proliferation in cancer with PD-L1 CNG and highlight additional vulnerabilities that may be therapeutically exploitable.

Janostiak R, Rauniyar N, Lam TT, et al.
MELK Promotes Melanoma Growth by Stimulating the NF-κB Pathway.
Cell Rep. 2017; 21(10):2829-2841 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Melanoma accounts for more than 80% of skin cancer-related deaths, and current therapies provide only short-term benefit to patients. Here, we show in melanoma cells that maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) is transcriptionally upregulated by the MAPK pathway via transcription factor E2F1. MELK knockdown or pharmacological inhibition blocked melanoma growth and enhanced the effectiveness of BRAFV600E inhibitor against melanoma cells. To identify mediators of MELK function, we performed stable isotope labeling with amino acids in cell culture (SILAC) and identified 469 proteins that had downregulated phosphorylation after MELK inhibition. Of these proteins, 139 were previously reported as substrates of BRAF or MEK, demonstrating that MELK is an important downstream mediator of the MAPK pathway. Furthermore, we show that MELK promotes melanoma growth by activating NF-κB pathway activity via Sequestosome 1 (SQSTM1/p62). Altogether, these results underpin an important role for MELK in melanoma growth downstream of the MAPK pathway.

Wu S, Chen X, Hu C, et al.
Up-Regulated Maternal Embryonic Leucine Zipper Kinase Predicts Poor Prognosis of Hepatocellular Carcinoma Patients in a Chinese Han Population.
Med Sci Monit. 2017; 23:5705-5713 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
BACKGROUND Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) has been implicated in various types of tumors, but its expression profile and clinicopathologic significance in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in Chinese Han people remains unknown. Therefore, this study attempted to investigate the expression pattern of MELK in HCC tissues obtained from a Chinese Han population. MATERIAL AND METHODS The expression of MELK, from RNA to protein levels, in HCC or disease-free human liver tissues was evaluated using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction assays and immunohistochemistry staining, and its prognostic significance was determined based on its impact on HCC patients' survival. RESULTS We found that HCC tissues expressed a higher level of MELK RNA than non-tumor tissues in tumor-related public databases (P<0.001). Hence, we assessed MELK mRNA expression within 32 HCC samples and their adjacent non-tumorous liver tissues in our center. Subsequently, MELK protein expression was evaluated within 101 HCC specimens and 40 disease-free liver tissues. Notably, it revealed that high MELK protein expression was significantly related with tumor number, tumor size, higher pathological tumor-nodule-metastasis stage, vascular invasion, and recurrence (P<0.05, all). Furthermore, elevated MELK protein expression was correlated with decreased overall survival and disease-free survival (P=0.004 and P=0.002, respectively). Univariate and multivariate analysis results show that MELK protein may serve as an independent prognostic indicator for determining prognosis of HCC patients. CONCLUSIONS We found that, in a Chinese Han population, MELK was highly expressed within HCC tissues from RNA to protein levels, and may be a potential independent prognostic biomarker for HCC patients.

Bolomsky A, Heusschen R, Schlangen K, et al.
Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase is a novel target for proliferation-associated high-risk myeloma.
Haematologica. 2018; 103(2):325-335 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Treatment of high-risk patients is a major challenge in multiple myeloma. This is especially true for patients assigned to the gene expression profiling-defined proliferation subgroup. Although recent efforts have identified some key players of proliferative myeloma, genetic interactions and players that can be targeted with clinically effective drugs have to be identified in order to overcome the poor prognosis of these patients. We therefore examined maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) for its implications in hyper-proliferative myeloma and analyzed the activity of the MELK inhibitor OTSSP167 both

Agarwal R, Narayan J, Bhattacharyya A, et al.
Gene expression profiling, pathway analysis and subtype classification reveal molecular heterogeneity in hepatocellular carcinoma and suggest subtype specific therapeutic targets.
Cancer Genet. 2017; 216-217:37-51 [PubMed] Related Publications
A very low 5-year survival rate among hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients is mainly due to lack of early stage diagnosis, distant metastasis and high risk of postoperative recurrence. Hence ascertaining novel biomarkers for early diagnosis and patient specific therapeutics is crucial and urgent. Here, we have performed a comprehensive analysis of the expression data of 423 HCC patients (373 tumors and 50 controls) downloaded from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) followed by pathway enrichment by gene ontology annotations, subtype classification and overall survival analysis. The differential gene expression analysis using non-parametric Wilcoxon test revealed a total of 479 up-regulated and 91 down-regulated genes in HCC compared to controls. The list of top differentially expressed genes mainly consists of tumor/cancer associated genes, such as AFP, THBS4, LCN2, GPC3, NUF2, etc. The genes over-expressed in HCC were mainly associated with cell cycle pathways. In total, 59 kinases associated genes were found over-expressed in HCC, including TTK, MELK, BUB1, NEK2, BUB1B, AURKB, PLK1, CDK1, PKMYT1, PBK, etc. Overall four distinct HCC subtypes were predicted using consensus clustering method. Each subtype was unique in terms of gene expression, pathway enrichment and median survival. Conclusively, this study has exposed a number of interesting genes which can be exploited in future as potential markers of HCC, diagnostic as well as prognostic and subtype classification may guide for improved and specific therapy.

Huang HT, Seo HS, Zhang T, et al.
MELK is not necessary for the proliferation of basal-like breast cancer cells.
Elife. 2017; 6 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Thorough preclinical target validation is essential for the success of drug discovery efforts. In this study, we combined chemical and genetic perturbants, including the development of a novel selective maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) inhibitor HTH-01-091, CRISPR/Cas9-mediated MELK knockout, a novel chemical-induced protein degradation strategy, RNA interference and CRISPR interference to validate MELK as a therapeutic target in basal-like breast cancers (BBC). In common culture conditions, we found that small molecule inhibition, genetic deletion, or acute depletion of MELK did not significantly affect cellular growth. This discrepancy to previous findings illuminated selectivity issues of the widely used MELK inhibitor OTSSP167, and potential off-target effects of MELK-targeting short hairpins. The different genetic and chemical tools developed here allow for the identification and validation of any causal roles MELK may play in cancer biology, which will be required to guide future MELK drug discovery efforts. Furthermore, our study provides a general framework for preclinical target validation.

Goto Y, Kurozumi A, Arai T, et al.
Impact of novel miR-145-3p regulatory networks on survival in patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer.
Br J Cancer. 2017; 117(3):409-420 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Despite recent advancements, metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) is not considered curative. Novel approaches for identification of therapeutic targets of CRPC are needed.
METHODS: Next-generation sequencing revealed 945-1248 miRNAs from each lethal mCRPC sample. We constructed miRNA expression signatures of CRPC by comparing the expression of miRNAs between CRPC and normal prostate tissue or hormone-sensitive prostate cancer (HSPC). Genome-wide gene expression studies and in silico analyses were carried out to predict miRNA regulation and investigate the functional significance and clinical utility of the novel oncogenic pathways regulated by these miRNAs in prostate cancer (PCa).
RESULTS: Based on the novel miRNA expression signature of CRPC, miR-145-5p and miR-145-3p were downregulated in CRPC. By focusing on miR-145-3p, which is a passenger strand and has not been well studied in previous reports, we showed that miR-145-3p targeted 4 key molecules, i.e., MELK, NCAPG, BUB1, and CDK1, in CPRC. These 4 genes significantly predicted survival in patients with PCa.
CONCLUSIONS: Small RNA sequencing for lethal CRPC and in silico analyses provided novel therapeutic targets for CRPC.

Wang Z, Cheng Y, Abraham JM, et al.
RNA sequencing of esophageal adenocarcinomas identifies novel fusion transcripts, including NPC1-MELK, arising from a complex chromosomal rearrangement.
Cancer. 2017; 123(20):3916-3924 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Studies of chromosomal rearrangements and fusion transcripts have elucidated mechanisms of tumorigenesis and led to targeted cancer therapies. This study was aimed at identifying novel fusion transcripts in esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC).
METHODS: To identify new fusion transcripts associated with EAC, targeted RNA sequencing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) verification were performed in 40 EACs and matched nonmalignant specimens from the same patients. Genomic PCR and Sanger sequencing were performed to find the breakpoint of fusion genes.
RESULTS: Five novel in-frame fusion transcripts were identified and verified in 40 EACs and in a validation cohort of 15 additional EACs (55 patients in all): fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGFR2)-GRB2-associated binding protein 2 (GAB2) in 2 of 55 or 3.6%, Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1)-maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) in 2 of 55 or 3.6%, ubiquitin-specific peptidase 54 (USP54)-calcium/calmodulin dependent protein kinase II γ (CAMK2G) in 2 of 55 or 3.6%, megakaryoblastic leukemia (translocation) 1 (MKL1)-fibulin 1 (FBLN1) in 1 of 55 or 1.8%, and CCR4-NOT transcription complex subunit 2 (CNOT2)-chromosome 12 open reading frame 49 (C12orf49) in 1 of 55 or 1.8%. A genomic analysis indicated that NPC1-MELK arose from a complex interchromosomal translocation event involving chromosomes 18, 3, and 9 with 3 rearrangement points, and this was consistent with chromoplexy.
CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that fusion transcripts occur at a stable frequency in EAC. Furthermore, our results indicate that chromoplexy is an underlying mechanism that generates fusion transcripts in EAC. These and other fusion transcripts merit further study as diagnostic markers and potential therapeutic targets in EAC. Cancer 2017;123:3916-24. © 2017 American Cancer Society.

Bao HX, Bi Q, Han Y, et al.
Potential mechanisms underlying CDK5 related Osteosarcoma progression.
Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2017; 21(5):455-460 [PubMed] Related Publications
OBJECTIVES: Identification of new prognostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets is of crucial importance for patients with osteosarcoma. Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (CDK5) is overexpressed in several tumor types. However, the exact role CDK5 plays in osteosarcoma is still unknown.
METHODS: In this study, we explored the association between CDK5 expression and the prognosis of osteosarcoma patients using publicly available gene expression datasets. Potential molecular mechanisms underlying its pro-malignant role in cancer progression were also discussed.
RESULTS: We demonstrated that tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle is activated while antigen presentation is repressed in patients with CDK5 overexpression and poor survival. This results indicated that sufficient energy production and tumor immune escape are important characteristics and potential therapeutic targets for this subgroup of osteosarcoma patients. Furthermore, several critical hub genes that are associated with CDK5 related osteosarcoma progression such as MELK were identified.
CONCLUSION: This study discussed the pro-malignant role of CDK5 and potential mechanisms involved. Further preclinical and clinical studies to develop CDK5 based treatments are warranted.

Mizuno K, Mataki H, Arai T, et al.
The microRNA expression signature of small cell lung cancer: tumor suppressors of miR-27a-5p and miR-34b-3p and their targeted oncogenes.
J Hum Genet. 2017; 62(7):671-678 [PubMed] Related Publications
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) constitutes approximately 15% of all diagnosed lung cancers. SCLC is a particularly lethal malignancy, as the 2-year survival rate after appropriate treatment is less than 5%. The patients with SCLC have not been received a benefit of the recently developed molecular targeted treatment. Therefore, a new treatment strategy is necessary for the patients. The molecular mechanisms underlying the aggressiveness of SCLC cells and their development of treatment-resistance are still ambiguous. In this study, we newly constructed a microRNA (miRNA) expression signature of SCLC by analysis of autopsy specimens. Based on the resultant signature, four miRNAs (miR-27a-5p, miR-485-3p, miR-34-5p and miR-574-3p) were found to be candidate anti-tumor miRNAs. To investigate their functional importance, we first validated the downregulation of miR-27a-5p and miR-34b-3p in SCLC clinical specimens. Next, we demonstrated that ectopic expression of both miR-27a-5p and miR-34b-3p significantly inhibited cancer cell aggressiveness. Our in silico analyses showed that four genes (topoisomerase 2 alpha (TOP2A), maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK), centromere protein F (CENPF) and SRY-box 1 (SOX1) were identified as miR-27a-5p- and miR-34b-3p-regulated genes. Based on immunohistochemical analysis, TOP2A, MELK and CENPF were involved in SCLC pathogenesis. These genes might contribute to high proliferation and early metastatic spread of SCLC cells. Elucidation of differentially expressed miRNA-mediated cancer pathways based on SCLC signature may provide new insights into the mechanisms of SCLC pathogenesis.

Gu Y, Lu L, Wu L, et al.
Identification of prognostic genes in kidney renal clear cell carcinoma by RNA‑seq data analysis.
Mol Med Rep. 2017; 15(4):1661-1667 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
The present study aimed to analyze RNA-seq data of kidney renal clear cell carcinoma (KIRC) to identify prognostic genes. RNA‑seq data were downloaded from The Cancer Genome Atlas. Feature genes with a coefficient of variation (CV) >0.5 were selected using the genefilter package in R. Gene co‑expression networks were constructed with the WGCNA package. Cox regression analysis was performed using the survive package. Furthermore, a functional enrichment analysis was conducted using Database for Annotation, Visualization and Integrated Discovery tools. A total of 533 KIRC samples were collected, from which 6,758 feature genes with a CV >0.5 were obtained for further analysis. The KIRC samples were divided into two sets: The training set (n=319 samples) and the validation set (n=214 samples). Subsequently, gene co‑expression networks were constructed for the two sets. A total of 12 modules were identified, and the green module was significantly associated with survival time. Genes from the green module were revealed to be implicated in the cell cycle and p53 signaling pathway. In addition, a total of 11 hub genes were revealed, and 10 of them (CCNA2, CDC20, CDCA8, GTSE1, KIF23, KIF2C, KIF4A, MELK, TOP2A and TPX2) were validated as possessing prognostic value, as determined by conducting a survival analysis on another gene expression dataset. In conclusion, a total of 10 prognostic genes were identified in KIRC. These findings may help to advance the understanding of this disease, and may also provide potential biomarkers for therapeutic development.

Simon M, Mesmar F, Helguero L, Williams C
Genome-wide effects of MELK-inhibitor in triple-negative breast cancer cells indicate context-dependent response with p53 as a key determinant.
PLoS One. 2017; 12(2):e0172832 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive, highly recurrent breast cancer subtype, affecting approximately one-fifth of all breast cancer patients. Subpopulations of treatment-resistant cancer stem cells within the tumors are considered to contribute to disease recurrence. A potential druggable target for such cells is the maternal embryonic leucine-zipper kinase (MELK). MELK expression is upregulated in mammary stem cells and in undifferentiated cancers, where it correlates with poor prognosis and potentially mediates treatment resistance. Several MELK inhibitors have been developed, of which one, OTSSP167, is currently in clinical trials. In order to better understand how MELK and its inhibition influence TNBC, we verified its anti-proliferative and apoptotic effects in claudin-low TNBC cell lines MDA-MB-231 and SUM-159 using MTS assays and/or trypan blue viability assays together with analysis of PARP cleavage. Then, using microarrays, we explored which genes were affected by OTSSP167. We demonstrate that different sets of genes are regulated in MDA-MB-231 and SUM-159, but in both cell lines genes involved in cell cycle, mitosis and protein metabolism and folding were regulated. We identified p53 (TP53) as a potential upstream regulator of the regulated genes. Using western blot we found that OTSSP167 downregulates mutant p53 in all tested TNBC cell lines (MDA-MB-231, SUM-159, and BT-549), but upregulates wild-type p53 in the luminal A subtype MCF-7 cell line. We propose that OTSSP167 might have context-dependent or off-target effects, but that one consistent mechanism of action could involve the destabilization of mutant p53.

Kohler RS, Kettelhack H, Knipprath-Mészaros AM, et al.
MELK expression in ovarian cancer correlates with poor outcome and its inhibition by OTSSP167 abrogates proliferation and viability of ovarian cancer cells.
Gynecol Oncol. 2017; 145(1):159-166 [PubMed] Related Publications
OBJECTIVE: Maternal embryonic leucine-zipper kinase (MELK) shows oncogenic properties in basal-like breast cancer, a cancer subtype sharing common molecular features with high-grade serous ovarian cancer. We examined the potential of MELK as a molecular and pharmacological target for treatment of epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC).
METHODS/MATERIALS: Bioinformatic analysis was performed on nine OC transcriptomic data sets totaling 1241 patients. Effects of MELK depletion by shRNA or inhibition by OTSSP167 in cell lines were assessed by colony formation and MTT (proliferation) assays, Western blotting (apoptosis), and flow cytometry (cell cycle analysis).
RESULTS: Elevated MELK expression was correlated with histological grading (n=6 data sets, p<0.05) and progression-free survival (HR 5.73, p<0.01) in OC patients and elevated MELK expression in other cancers with disease-free survival (n=3495, HR 1.071, p<0.001). Inhibition or depletion of MELK reduced cell proliferation and anchorage-dependent and -independent growth in various OC cell lines through a G2/M cell cycle arrest, eventually resulting in apoptosis. OTSSP167 retained its cytotoxicity in Cisplatin- and Paclitaxel-resistant IGROV1 and TYK-nu OC cells and sensitized OVCAR8 cells to Carboplatin but not Paclitaxel.
CONCLUSION: MELK inhibition by OTSSP167 may thus present a strategy to treat patients with aggressive, progressive, and recurrent ovarian cancer.

Calcagno DQ, Takeno SS, Gigek CO, et al.
Identification of
World J Gastroenterol. 2016; 22(43):9506-9514 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
AIM: To identify common copy number alterations on gastric cancer cell lines.
METHODS: Four gastric cancer cell lines (ACP02, ACP03, AGP01 and PG100) underwent chromosomal comparative genome hybridization and array comparative genome hybridization. We also confirmed the results by fluorescence
RESULTS: The amplification of 9p13.3 was detected in all cell lines by both methodologies. An increase in the copy number of 9p13.3 was also confirmed by fluorescence
CONCLUSION: The characterization of a small gain region at 9p13.3 in gastric cancer cell lines and primary gastric adenocarcinoma samples has revealed

Xia H, Kong SN, Chen J, et al.
MELK is an oncogenic kinase essential for early hepatocellular carcinoma recurrence.
Cancer Lett. 2016; 383(1):85-93 [PubMed] Related Publications
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Many kinases have been found to be intimately involved in oncogenesis and the deregulation of kinase function has emerged as a major mechanism by which cancer cells evade normal physiological constraints on growth and survival. Previously, we have performed gene expression profile analysis on HCC samples and have identified a host of kinases that are remarkably overexpressed in HCC. Among these, the Maternal Embryonic Leucine Zipper Kinase (MELK) is highly overexpressed in HCC and its overexpression strongly correlates with early recurrence and poor patients' survival. Silencing MELK inhibited cell growth, invasion, stemness and tumorigenicity of HCC cells by inducing apoptosis and mitosis. We further showed that the overexpression of MELK in HCC samples strongly correlated with the cell cycle- and mitosis-related genes which are directly regulated as part of the forkhead transcription factor FoxM1-related cell division program. Together, our data establish MELK as an oncogenic kinase involved in the pathogenesis and recurrence of HCC and could provide a promising molecular target to develop therapeutic strategies for patients with advanced HCC.

Ghatalia P, Yang ES, Lasseigne BN, et al.
Kinase Gene Expression Profiling of Metastatic Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma Tissue Identifies Potential New Therapeutic Targets.
PLoS One. 2016; 11(8):e0160924 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Kinases are therapeutically actionable targets. Kinase inhibitors targeting vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFR) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) improve outcomes in metastatic clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC), but are not curative. Metastatic tumor tissue has not been comprehensively studied for kinase gene expression. Paired intra-patient kinase gene expression analysis in primary tumor (T), matched normal kidney (N) and metastatic tumor tissue (M) may assist in identifying drivers of metastasis and prioritizing therapeutic targets. We compared the expression of 519 kinase genes using NanoString in T, N and M in 35 patients to discover genes over-expressed in M compared to T and N tissue. RNA-seq data derived from ccRCC tumors in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) were used to demonstrate differential expression of genes in primary tumor tissue from patients that had metastasis at baseline (n = 79) compared to those that did not develop metastasis for at least 2 years (n = 187). Functional analysis was conducted to identify key signaling pathways by using Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. Of 10 kinase genes overexpressed in metastases compared to primary tumor in the discovery cohort, 9 genes were also differentially expressed in TCGA primary tumors with metastasis at baseline compared to primary tumors without metastasis for at least 2 years: EPHB2, AURKA, GSG2, IKBKE, MELK, CSK, CHEK2, CDC7 and MAP3K8; p<0.001). The top pathways overexpressed in M tissue were pyridoxal 5'-phosphate salvage, salvage pathways of pyrimidine ribonucleotides, NF-kB signaling, NGF signaling and cell cycle control of chromosomal replication. The 9 kinase genes validated to be over-expressed in metastatic ccRCC may represent currently unrecognized but potentially actionable therapeutic targets that warrant functional validation.

Moiseeva NI, Susova OY, Mitrofanov AA, et al.
Connection between Proliferation Rate and Temozolomide Sensitivity of Primary Glioblastoma Cell Culture and Expression of YB-1 and LRP/MVP.
Biochemistry (Mosc). 2016; 81(6):628-35 [PubMed] Related Publications
Glioblastomas (GBL) are the most common and aggressive brain tumors. They are distinguished by high resistance to radiation and chemotherapy. To find novel approaches for GBL classification, we obtained 16 primary GBL cell cultures and tested them with real-time PCR for mRNA expression of several genes (YB-1, MGMT, MELK, MVP, MDR1, BCRP) involved in controlling cell proliferation and drug resistance. The primary GBL cultures differed in terms of proliferation rate, wherein a group of GBL cell cultures with low proliferation rate demonstrated higher resistance to temozolomide. We found that GBL primary cell cultures characterized by high proliferation rate and lower resistance to temozolomide expressed higher mRNA level of the YB-1 and MDR1 genes, whereas upregulated expression of MVP/LRP mRNA was a marker in the group of GBL with low proliferation rate and high resistance. A moderate correlation between expression of YB-1 and MELK as well as YB-1 and MDR1 was found. In the case of YB-1 and MGMT expression, no correlation was found. A significant negative correlation was revealed between mRNA expression of MVP/LRP and MELK, MDR1, and BCRP. No correlation in expression of YB-1 and MVP/LRP genes was observed. It seems that mRNA expression of YB-1 and MVP/LRP may serve as a marker for GBL cell cultures belonging to distinct groups, each of which is characterized by a unique pattern of gene activity.

Stavrovskaya AA, Shushanov SS, Rybalkina EY
Problems of Glioblastoma Multiforme Drug Resistance.
Biochemistry (Mosc). 2016; 81(2):91-100 [PubMed] Related Publications
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBL) is the most common and aggressive brain neoplasm. A standard therapeutic approach for GBL involves combination therapy consisting of surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. The latter is based on temozolomide (TMZ). However, even by applying such a radical treatment strategy, the mean patient survival time is only 14.6 months. Here we review the molecular mechanisms underlying the resistance of GBL cells to TMZ including genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Present data regarding a role for genes and proteins MGMT, IDH1/2, YB-1, MELK, MVP/LRP, MDR1 (ABCB1), and genes encoding other ABC transporters as well as Akt3 kinase in developing resistance of GBL to TMZ are discussed. Some epigenetic regulators of resistance to TMZ such as microRNA and EZH2 are reviewed.

Ralph ACL, Calcagno DQ, da Silva Souza LG, et al.
Biflorin induces cytotoxicity by DNA interaction in genetically different human melanoma cell lines.
Toxicol In Vitro. 2016; 34:237-245 [PubMed] Related Publications
Cancer is a public health problem and the second leading cause of death worldwide. The incidence of cutaneous melanoma has been notably increasing, resulting in high aggressiveness and poor survival rates. Taking into account the antitumor activity of biflorin, a substance isolated from Capraria biflora L. roots that is cytotoxic in vitro and in vivo, this study aimed to demonstrate the action of biflorin against three established human melanoma cell lines that recapitulate the molecular landscape of the disease in terms of genetic alterations and mutations, such as the TP53, NRAS and BRAF genes. The results presented here indicate that biflorin reduces the viability of melanoma cell lines by DNA interactions. Biflorin causes single and double DNA strand breaks, consequently inhibiting cell cycle progression, replication and DNA repair and promoting apoptosis. Our data suggest that biflorin could be considered as a future therapeutic option for managing melanoma.

Kato T, Inoue H, Imoto S, et al.
Oncogenic roles of TOPK and MELK, and effective growth suppression by small molecular inhibitors in kidney cancer cells.
Oncotarget. 2016; 7(14):17652-64 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
T-lymphokine-activated killer cell-originated protein kinase (TOPK) and maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) have been reported to play critical roles in cancer cell proliferation and maintenance of stemness. In this study, we investigated possible roles of TOPK and MELK in kidney cancer cells and found their growth promotive effect as well as some feedback mechanism between these two molecules. Interestingly, the blockade of either of these two kinases effectively caused downregulation of forkhead box protein M1 (FOXM1) activity which is known as an oncogenic transcriptional factor in various types of cancer cells. Small molecular compound inhibitors against TOPK (OTS514) and MELK (OTS167) effectively suppressed the kidney cancer cell growth, and the combination of these two compounds additively worked and showed the very strong growth suppressive effect on kidney cancer cells. Collectively, our results suggest that both TOPK and MELK are promising molecular targets for kidney cancer treatment and that dual blockade of OTS514 and OTS167 may bring additive anti-tumor effects with low risk of side effects.

Inoue H, Kato T, Olugbile S, et al.
Effective growth-suppressive activity of maternal embryonic leucine-zipper kinase (MELK) inhibitor against small cell lung cancer.
Oncotarget. 2016; 7(12):13621-33 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK), that plays a critical role in maintenance of cancer stem cells (CSCs), is predominantly expressed in various types of human cancer including small cell lung cancer (SCLC). SCLC usually acquires resistance to anti-cancer drugs and portends dismal prognosis. We have delineated roles of MELK in development/progression of SCLC and examined anti-tumor efficacy of OTS167, a highly potent MELK inhibitor, against SCLC. MELK expression was highly upregulated in both SCLC cell lines and primary tumors. siRNA-mediated MELK knockdown induced significant growth inhibition in SCLC cell lines. Concordantly, treatment with OTS167 exhibited strong cytotoxicity against eleven SCLC cell lines with IC50 of < 10 nM. As similar to siRNA knockdown, OTS167 treatment induced cytokinetic defects with intercellular bridges, and in some cell lines we observed formation of neuronal protrusions accompanied with increase of a neuronal differentiation marker (CD56), indicating that the compound induced differentiation of cancer cells to neuron-like cells. Furthermore, the MELK inhibition decreased its downstream FOXM1 activity and Akt expression in SCLC cells, and led to apoptotic cell death. OTS167 appeared to be more effective to CSCs as measured by the sphere formation assay, thus MELK inhibition might become a promising treatment modality for SCLC.

Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes only; it can not be used in diagnosis or treatment.

Cite this page: Cotterill SJ. MELK, Cancer Genetics Web: Accessed:

Creative Commons License
This page in Cancer Genetics Web by Simon Cotterill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Note: content of abstracts copyright of respective publishers - seek permission where appropriate.

 [Home]    Page last revised: 31 August, 2019     Cancer Genetics Web, Established 1999