The ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation pathway in cancer: therapeutic implications

Eur J Cancer. 2004 Oct;40(15):2217-29. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2004.07.006.


The highly conserved eukaryotic ubiquitin-proteasome system (UP-S) plays a pivotal role in protein homeostasis and is critical in regulating normal and cancer-related cellular processes. The hierarchical nature of the UP-S provides a rich source of molecular targets for specific intervention and has therefore arisen as a promising approach to innovative anticancer therapies. The first in class proteasome inhibitory agent Bortezomib (Velcade) has recently obtained regulatory approval for the treatment of multiple myeloma. Ubiquitin-mediated degradation is a complex process that is comprised of well defined steps involving ubiquitin-activating enzymes (E1s), ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes (E2s) and ubiquitin ligases (E3s). Although a single E1 activates the ubiquitin conjugation machinery, a large number of E2 conjugating enzymes and E3 ligases are now known to exist. Proteins tagged with ubiquitin are subsequently recognised by the proteasome for digestion and fragmentation. The enzymatic nature, multitude of E3s and their specific substrate recognition predestines them as therapeutic targets. This article will review known inhibitors of the proteasome and their molecular mechanisms as well as ongoing developments and promising avenues for targeting substrate-specific E3 ligases that are likely to yield a new class of therapeutics that will serve and complement the armamentarium of anticancer drugs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ligases / metabolism
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitin-Conjugating Enzymes / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • Proteins
  • Ubiquitin
  • Ubiquitin-Conjugating Enzymes
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Ligases