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Cancer Res. 2006 Apr 1;66(7):3754-63.

Ubiquitin-proteasome system stress sensitizes ovarian cancer to proteasome inhibitor-induced apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Cancer Research Building 2, 1550 Orleans Street, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA.


The ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) mediates targeted protein degradation. Notably, the UPS determines levels of key checkpoint proteins controlling apoptosis and proliferation by controlling protein half-life. Herein, we show that ovarian carcinoma manifests an overstressed UPS by comparison with normal tissues by accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins despite elevated proteasome levels. Elevated levels of total ubiquitinated proteins and 19S and 20S proteasome subunits are evident in both low-grade and high-grade ovarian carcinoma tissues relative to benign ovarian tumors and in ovarian carcinoma cell lines relative to immortalized surface epithelium. We find that ovarian carcinoma cell lines exhibit greater sensitivity to apoptosis in response to proteasome inhibitors than immortalized ovarian surface epithelial cells. This sensitivity correlates with increased cellular proliferation rate and UPS stress rather than absolute proteasome levels. Proteasomal inhibition in vitro induces cell cycle arrest and the accumulation of p21 and p27 and triggers apoptosis via activation of caspase-3. Furthermore, treatment with the licensed proteasome inhibitor PS-341 slows the growth of ES-2 ovarian carcinoma xenograft in immunodeficient mice. In sum, elevated proliferation and metabolic rate resulting from malignant transformation of the epithelium stresses the UPS and renders ovarian carcinoma more sensitive to apoptosis in response to proteasomal inhibition.

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