MAP4K4 promotes pancreatic tumorigenesis via phosphorylation and activation of mixed lineage kinase 3

Sunil Kumar Singh, Sandeep Kumar, Navin Viswakarma, Daniel R. Principe, Subhasis Das, Gautam Sondarva, Rakesh Sathish Nair, Piush Srivastava, Subhash C. Sinha, Paul J. Grippo, Gregory R.J. Thatcher, Basabi Rana, Ajay Rana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


MAP4K4 is a Ste20 member and reported to play important roles in various pathologies, including in cancer. However, the mechanism by which MAP4K4 promotes pancreatic cancer is not fully understood. It is suggested that MAP4K4 might function as a cancer promoter via specific downstream target(s) in an organ-specific manner. Here we identified MLK3 as a direct downstream target of MAP4K4. The MAP4K4 and MLK3 associates with each other, and MAP4K4 phosphorylates MLK3 on Thr738 and increases MLK3 kinase activity and downstream signaling. The phosphorylation of MLK3 by MAP4K4 promotes pancreatic cancer cell proliferation, migration, and colony formation. Moreover, MAP4K4 is overexpressed in human pancreatic tumors and directly correlates with the disease progression. The MAP4K4-specific pharmacological inhibitor, GNE-495, impedes pancreatic cancer cell growth, migration, induces cell death, and arrests cell cycle progression. Additionally, the GNE-495 reduced the tumor burden and extended survival of the KPC mice with pancreatic cancer. The MAP4K4 inhibitor also reduced MAP4K4 protein expression, tumor stroma, and induced cell death in murine pancreatic tumors. These findings collectively suggest that MLK3 phosphorylation by MAP4K4 promotes pancreatic cancer, and therefore therapies targeting MAP4K4 might alleviate the pancreatic cancer tumor burden in patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6153-6165
Number of pages13
Issue number43
StatePublished - Oct 28 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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