The ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is the major non-lysosomal proteolytic system for the degradation of abnormal or damaged proteins no longer required. The proteasome is involved in degradation of numerous proteins which regulate the cell cycle, indicating a role in controlling cell proliferation and maintaining cell survival. Defects in the UPS can lead to anarchic cell proliferation and to tumor development.
For these reasons UPS inhibition has become a significant new strategy for drug development in cancer treatment.
In addition to the constitutive proteasome, which is expressed in all cells and tissues, higher organisms such as vertebrates possess two immune-type proteasomes, the thymoproteasome and the immunoproteasome. The thymoproteasome is specifically expressed by thymic cortical epithelial cells and has a role in positive selection of CD8 + T cells, whereas the immunoproteasome is predominantly expressed in monocytes and lymphocytes and is responsible for the generation of antigenic peptides for cell-mediated immunity. Recent studies demonstrated that the immunoproteasome has a preservative role during oxidative stress and is up-regulated in a number of pathological disorders including cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. As a consequence, immunoproteasome-selective inhibitors are currently the focus of anticancer drug design. At present, the commercially available proteasome inhibitors bortezomib and carfilzomib which have been validated in multiple myeloma and other model systems, appear to target both the constitutive and immunoproteasomes, indiscriminately. This lack of specificity may, in part, explain some of the side effects of these agents, such as peripheral neuropathy and gastrointestinal effects, which may be due to targeting of the constitutive proteasome in these tissues. In contrast, by selectively inhibiting the immunoproteasome, it may be possible to maintain the antimyeloma and antilymphoma efficacy while reducing these toxicities, thereby increasing the therapeutic index.
This review article will be focused on the discussion of the most promising immunoproteasome specific inhibitors which have been developed in recent years. Particular attention will be devoted to the description of their mechanism of action, their structure-activity relationship, and their potential application in therapy.