MSK1 (mitogen- and stress-activated kinase 1) and MSK2 are nuclear protein kinases that regulate transcription downstream of the ERK 1/2 (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase 1/2) and p38 alpha MAPKs (mitogen-activated protein kinases) via the phosphorylation of CREB (cAMP-response-element-binding protein) and histone H3. Previous studies on the function of MSKs have used two inhibitors. H89 and Ro 31-8220, both of which have multiple off-target effects. In the present study, we report the characterization of the in vitro and cellular properties of an improved MSK1 inhibitor, SB-747651A. In vitro, SB-747651A inhibits MSK1 with an IC50 value of 11 nM. Screening of an in vitro panel of 117 protein kinases revealed that, at 1 mu M, SB-747651A inhibited four other kinases, PRK2 (double-stranded-RNA-dependent protein kinase 2), RSK1 (ribosomal S6 kinase 1), p70(S6K)) (S6K is S6 kinase) (p70(RSK)) and ROCK-II (Rho-associated protein kinase 2), with a similar potency to MSK1. In cells, SB-747651A fully inhibited MSK activity at 5-10 mu M. SB-747651A was found to inhibit the production of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 (interleukin-10) in wild-type, but not MSK1/2-knockout, macrophages following LPS (lipopolysaccharide) stimulation. Both SB-747651A and MSK1/2 knockout resulted in elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine production by macrophages in response to LPS. Comparison of the effects of SB-747651A, both in vitro and in cells, demonstrated that SB-747651A exhibited improved selectivity over H89 and Ro 31-8220 and therefore represents a useful tool to study MSK function in cells.