This study presents the design, synthesis, and characterization of bisindole molecules as anti-cancer agents against Tousled-like kinases (TLKs). We show that compound 2 composed of an indirubin-3′-oxime group linked with a (N-methylpiperidin-2-yl)ethyl moiety possessed inhibitory activity toward both TLK1 and TLK2 in vitro and diminished the phosphorylation level of the downstream substrate anti-silencing function 1 (ASF1) in replicating cells. The treatment of compound 2 impaired DNA replication, slowed S-phase progression, and triggered DNA damage response in replicating cells. Structure optimization further discovered six derivatives exhibiting potent TLK inhibitory activity and revealed the importance of the tertiary amine-containing moiety of the side chain. Moreover, the derivatives 6, 17, 19, and 20 strongly suppressed the growth of triple-negative breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells, non-small cell lung cancer A549 cells, and colorectal cancer HCT-116 cells, while normal lung fibroblast MRC5 and IMR90 cells showed a lower response to these compounds. Taken together, this study identifies tertiary amine-linked indirubin-3′-oximes as potent anticancer agents that inhibit TLK activity.
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