Cyclin-dependent protein kinase 8 (CDK8) plays important roles in regulating fibrotic growth factors and inflammatory signaling pathways. Long-term chronic inflammation of the lungs can lead to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Abnormal alveolar epithelial regeneration leads to the release of various fibrotic growth factors and the activation of inflammatory cells. CDK8 regulates profibrotic cytokines broadly implicated in the pathogenesis of fibrosis. Therefore, inhibition of CDK8 is considered a promising strategy for treating IPF. Here, CDK8 inhibitors were designed and optimized using a fragment-based drug design strategy. Testing results revealed that 71% of the synthesized compounds inhibited CDK8 activity better than the original compound E966–0530. Of these compounds, compound 4k exhibited the strongest CDK8 enzyme-inhibiting activity (IC50 =129 nM). Notably, it displayed a 13-fold increase in potency when compared to E966–0530. Experiments on toxicity and inhibition of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) protein expressions showed that compound 4k can inhibit EMT protein expressions, but with no significant cytotoxicity for alveolar epithelial cells. Compound 4k showed a potent inhibitory effect in cell migration assays. Furthermore, compound 4k significantly inhibited the phosphorylation of p-Smad3 and RNA Pol II, which are critical mediators in the fibrotic response signaling pathway. Compound 4k remarkably reduced TGF-β1-induced oxidative stress. The above results reveal optimized CDK8 inhibitors with potential use for IPF therapeutic treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114258
JournalBiomedicine and Pharmacotherapy
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • Cyclin-dependent protein kinase 8 (CDK8)
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)
  • Indolin-2-one
  • Kinase inhibitor
  • Lead optimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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