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Cancer Res. 1999 Jun 1;59(11):2615-22.

Proteasome inhibitors: a novel class of potent and effective antitumor agents.

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  • 1ProScript, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway plays a critical role in the regulated degradation of proteins involved in cell cycle control and tumor growth. Dysregulating the degradation of such proteins should have profound effects on tumor growth and cause cells to undergo apoptosis. To test this hypothesis, we developed a novel series of proteasome inhibitors, exemplified by PS-341, which we describe here. As determined by the National Cancer Institute in vitro screen, PS-341 has substantial cytotoxicity against a broad range of human tumor cells, including prostate cancer cell lines. The PC-3 prostate cell line was, therefore, chosen to further examine the antitumor activity of PS-341. In vitro, PS-341 elicits proteasome inhibition, leading to an increase in the intracellular levels of specific proteins, including the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, p21. Moreover, exposure of such cells to PS-341 caused them to accumulate in the G2-M phase of the cell cycle and subsequently undergo apoptosis, as indicated by nuclear condensation and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage. Following weekly i.v. treatment of PS-341 to mice bearing the PC-3 tumor, a significant decrease (60%) in tumor burden was observed in vivo. Direct injection of PS-341 into the tumor also caused a substantial (70%) decrease in tumor volume with 40% of the drug-treated mice having no detectable tumors at the end of the study. Studies also revealed that i.v. administration of PS-341 resulted in a rapid and widespread distribution of PS-341, with highest levels identified in the liver and gastrointestinal tract and lowest levels in the skin and muscle. Modest levels were found in the prostate, whereas there was no apparent penetration of the central nervous system. An assay to follow the biological activity of the PS-341 was established and used to determine temporal drug activity as well as its ability to penetrate tissues. As such, PS-341 was shown to penetrate PC-3 tumors and inhibit intracellular proteasome activity 1.0 h after i.v. dosing. These data illustrate that PS-341 not only reaches its biological target but has a direct effect on its biochemical target, the proteasome. Importantly, the data show that inhibition of this target site by PS-341 results in reduced tumor growth in murine tumor models. Together, the results highlight that the proteasome is a novel biochemical target and that inhibitors such as PS-341 represent a unique class of antitumor agents. PS-341 is currently under clinical evaluation for advanced cancers.

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