Introductionp21-activated kinase 1 (PAK1) stimulates growth and metastasis in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Protein kinase C iota (PKCι) is an enzyme highly expressed in NSCLC, regulating PAK1 signaling. In the present study we explored whether the PKCι-PAK1 signaling pathway approach can be an efficient target in different types of NSCLC cell and mouse models.MethodsThe effect of IPA-3 (PAK1 inhibitor) plus auranofin (PKCι inhibitor) combination was evaluated by cell viability assay, colony formation and western blotting assay, using three types of NSCLC cell lines: EGFR or KRAS mutant adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma with PAK1 amplification. In addition, for clinical availability, screening for new PAK1 inhibitors was carried out and the compound OTSSP167 was evaluated in combination with auranofin in cell and mice models.ResultsThe combination of IPA-3 or OTSSP167 plus auranofin showed high synergism for inhibiting cell viability and colony formation in three cell lines. Mechanistic characterization revealed that this drug combination abrogated expression and activation of membrane receptors and downstream signaling proteins crucial in lung cancer: EGFR, MET, PAK1, PKCι, ERK1/2, AKT, YAP1 and mTOR. A nude mouse xenograft assay demonstrated that this drug combination strongly suppressed tumor volume compared with single drug treatment.ConclusionsCombination of IPA-3 or OTSSP167 and auranofin was highly synergistic in EGFR or KRAS mutant adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma cell lines and decreased tumor volume in mice models. It is of interest to further test the targeting of PKCι-PAK1 signaling pathways in EGFR mutant, KRAS mutant and squamous NSCLC patients.