Rho-associated kinase 1 (ROCK1) and ROCK2 are activated by Rho GTPase and control cytoskeleton rearrangement through modulating the phosphorylation of their down-stream effector molecules. Although these 2 isoforms share more than 90% homology within their kinase domain the question of whether ROCK proteins function identically in different cell types is not clear. By using both pharmacological inhibition and genetic knockdown approaches recent studies suggest that the ROCK2 isoform plays an exclusive role in controlling of T-cell plasticity and macrophage polarization. Specifically, selective ROCK2 inhibition shifts the balance between pro-inflammatory and regulatory T-cell subsets via concurrent regulation of STAT3 and STAT5 phosphorylation, respectively. Furthermore, the administration of an orally available selective ROCK2 inhibitor effectively ameliorates clinical manifestations in experimental models of autoimmunity and chronic graft-vs.-host disease (cGVHD). Because ROCK2 inhibition results in the suppression of M2-type macrophages while favoring polarization of M1-type macrophages, ROCK2 inhibition can correct the macrophage imbalance seen during age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In summary, the exclusive role of ROCK2 in immune system modulation argues for the development and testing of isoform-specific ROCK2 inhibitors for the treatment of inflammatory disorders.

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Ryan Flynn’s laboratory is focused on the exploration and discovery of how biopolymers like RNA and glycans work together to control cellular processes in the context of human disease.

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