PTEN, a known tumour suppressor, inhibits the FXBL2-dependent degradation of IP3R3, an IP3 receptor, thus augmenting IP3R3-mediated calcium release from the endoplasmic reticulum to mitochondria and inducing apoptosis; inhibiting FXBL2 sensitizes PTEN-deficient tumours to photodynamic therapy.
In response to environmental cues that promote IP3 (inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate) generation, IP3 receptors (IP3Rs) located on the endoplasmic reticulum allow the ‘quasisynaptical' feeding of calcium to the mitochondria to promote oxidative phosphorylation1. However, persistent Ca2+ release results in mitochondrial Ca2+ overload and consequent apoptosis2. Among the three mammalian IP3Rs, IP3R3 appears to be the major player in Ca2+-dependent apoptosis. Here we show that the F-box protein FBXL2 (the receptor subunit of one of 69 human SCF (SKP1, CUL1, F-box protein) ubiquitin ligase complexes3) binds IP3R3 and targets it for ubiquitin-, p97- and proteasome-mediated degradation to limit Ca2+ influx into mitochondria. FBXL2-knockdown cells and FBXL2-insensitive IP3R3 mutant knock-in clones display increased cytosolic Ca2+ release from the endoplasmic reticulum and sensitization to Ca2+-dependent apoptotic stimuli. The phosphatase and tensin homologue (PTEN) gene is frequently mutated or lost in human tumours and syndromes that predispose individuals to cancer4. We found that PTEN competes with FBXL2 for IP3R3 binding, and the FBXL2-dependent degradation of IP3R3 is accelerated in Pten−/− mouse embryonic fibroblasts and PTEN-null cancer cells. Reconstitution of PTEN-null cells with either wild-type PTEN or a catalytically dead mutant stabilizes IP3R3 and induces persistent Ca2+ mobilization and apoptosis. IP3R3 and PTEN protein levels directly correlate in human prostate cancer. Both in cell culture and xenograft models, a non-degradable IP3R3 mutant sensitizes tumour cells with low or no PTEN expression to photodynamic therapy, which is based on the ability of photosensitizer drugs to cause Ca2+-dependent cytotoxicity after irradiation with visible light5,6. Similarly, disruption of FBXL2 localization with GGTi-2418, a geranylgeranyl transferase inhibitor7, sensitizes xenotransplanted tumours to photodynamic therapy. In summary, we identify a novel molecular mechanism that limits mitochondrial Ca2+ overload to prevent cell death. Notably, we provide proof-of-principle that inhibiting IP3R3 degradation in PTEN-deregulated cancers represents a valid therapeutic strategy.