Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research, Department of Chemical Biology, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 164 Frelinghuysen Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854, United States. Electronic address: [Email]
The p21 Activated Kinases (PAKs) are a family of serine threonine kinases, that consist of 6 members, PAKs 1-6, which are positioned at an intersection of multiple signaling pathways implicated in oncogenesis. The PAKs were originally identified as protein kinases that function downstream of the Ras related Rho GTPases Cdc42 and Rac. PAK1 and PAK4, which belong to Group I and Group II PAKs, respectively, are most often associated with tumorigenesis. On account of their well characterized roles in cancer, several small molecule inhibitors are being developed to inhibit the PAKs, and there is interest in investigating their efficacy as either first line or adjuvant treatments for cancer. Studies to delineate PAK regulated signaling pathways as well as the long term effects of PAK overexpression on gene expression are beginning to shed light on the mechanism by which PAK proteins may lead to cancer when they are overexpressed or activated. This review will describe the association between PAK expression in cancer, with a focus on PAK1 and PAK4, which are most often associated with the disease. The current understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which the PAKs operate in cancer will be discussed. We will also review some of the potential drug candidates, and discuss which of them are currently being tested for their efficacy in cancer treatments.