The role of the ubiquitin/proteasome system in cellular responses to radiation

Oncogene. 2003 Sep 1;22(37):5755-73. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1206676.


In the last few years, the ubiquitin(Ub)/proteasome system has become increasingly recognized as a controller of numerous physiological processes, including signal transduction, DNA repair, chromosome maintenance, transcriptional activation, cell cycle progression, cell survival, and certain immune cell functions. This is in addition to its more established roles in the removal of misfolded, damaged, and effete proteins. This review examines the role of the Ub/proteasome system in processes underlying the classical effects of irradiation on cells, such as radiation-induced gene expression, DNA repair and chromosome instability, oxidative damage, cell cycle arrest, and cell death. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that the proteasome is a redox-sensitive target for ionizing radiation and other oxidative stress signals. In other words, the Ub/proteasome system may not simply be a passive player in radiation-induced responses, but may modulate them. The extent of the modulation will be influenced by the functional and structural diversity that is expressed by the system. Cell types vary in the Ub/proteasome structures they possess and the level at which they function, and this changes as they go from the normal to the cancerous condition. Cancer-related functional changes within the Ub/proteasome system may therefore present unique targets for cancer therapy, especially when targeting agents are used in combination with radio- or chemotherapy. The peptide boronic acid compound PS-341, which was designed to inhibit proteasome chymotryptic activity, is in clinical trials for the treatment of solid and hematogenous tumors. It has shown some efficacy on its own and in combination with chemotherapy. Preclinical studies have shown that PS-341 will also potentiate the cytotoxic effects of radiation therapy. In addition, other drugs in common clinical use have been shown to affect proteasome function, and their activities may be valuably reconsidered from this perspective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / radiation effects
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / radiation effects
  • Cell Cycle / radiation effects
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism*
  • Multienzyme Complexes / radiation effects
  • Oxidative Stress / radiation effects
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitin / radiation effects


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • Ubiquitin
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex