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Cell cycle regulation by the NEK family of protein kinases
Andrew M. Fry, Laura O'Regan, Sarah R. Sabir, Richard Bayliss


Genetic screens for cell division cycle mutants in the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans led to the discovery of never-in-mitosis A (NIMA), a serine/threonine kinase that is required for mitotic entry. Since that discovery, NIMA-related kinases, or NEKs, have been identified in most eukaryotes, including humans where eleven genetically distinct proteins named NEK1 to NEK11 are expressed. Although there is no evidence that human NEKs are essential for mitotic entry, it is clear that several NEK family members have important roles in cell cycle control. In particular, NEK2, NEK6, NEK7 and NEK9 contribute to the establishment of the microtubule-based mitotic spindle, whereas NEK1, NEK10 and NEK11 have been implicated in the DNA damage response. Roles for NEKs in other aspects of mitotic progression, such as chromatin condensation, nuclear envelope breakdown, spindle assembly checkpoint signalling and cytokinesis have also been proposed. Interestingly, NEK1 and NEK8 also function within cilia, the microtubule-based structures that are nucleated from basal bodies. This has led to the current hypothesis that NEKs have evolved to coordinate microtubule-dependent processes in both dividing and non-dividing cells. Here, we review the functions of the human NEKs, with particular emphasis on those family members that are involved in cell cycle control, and consider their potential as therapeutic targets in cancer.


  • Funding

    The work of A.M.F. is supported by the Wellcome Trust; Cancer Research UK; and the Association for International Cancer Research (AICR). R.B. acknowledges support from Cancer Research UK; and the Royal Society. The authors are members of the Leicester Cancer Research UK Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre.

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