Targeting steroid hormone receptors for ubiquitination and degradation in breast and prostate cancer

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Proteolysis targeting chimeric molecules (Protacs) target proteins for destruction by exploiting the ubiquitin-dependent proteolytic system of eukaryotic cells. We designed two Protacs that contain the peptide ‘degron’ from hypoxiainducible factor-1α, which binds to the Von -Hippel-Lindau (VHL) E3 ubiquitin ligase complex, linked to either dihydroxytestosterone that targets the androgen receptor (AR; Protac-A), or linked to estradiol (E2) that targets the estrogen receptor-α (ERα; Protac-B). We hypothesized that these Protacs would recruit hormone receptors to the VHL E3 ligase complex, resulting in the degradation of receptors, and decreased proliferation of hormone-dependent cell lines. Treatment of estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells with Protac-B induced the degradation of ERα in a proteasomedependent manner. Protac-B inhibited the proliferation of ERα-dependent breast cancer cells by inducing G1 arrest, inhibition of retinoblastoma phosphorylation and decreasing expression of cyclin D1, progesterone receptors A and B. Protac-B treatment did not affect the proliferation of estrogen-independent breast cancer cells that lacked ERα expression. Similarly, Protac-A treatment of androgendependent prostate cancer cells induced G1 arrest but did not affect cells that do not express AR. Our results suggest that Protacs specifically inhibit the proliferation of hormone-dependent breast and prostate cancer cells through degradation of the ERα and AR, respectively.

Oncogene (2008) 27, 7201-7211; doi:10.1038/onc.2008.320; published online 15 September 2008

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