The proteasome is a molecular target of environmental toxic organotins

Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Mar;117(3):379-86. doi: 10.1289/ehp.11865. Epub 2008 Oct 23.


Background: Because of the vital importance of the proteasome pathway, chemicals affecting proteasome activity could disrupt essential cellular processes. Although the toxicity of organotins to both invertebrates and vertebrates is well known, the essential cellular target of organotins has not been well identified. We hypothesize that the proteasome is a molecular target of environmental toxic organotins.

Objectives: Our goal was to test the above hypothesis by investigating whether organotins could inhibit the activity of purified and cellular proteasomes and, if so, the involved molecular mechanisms and downstream events.

Results: We found that some toxic organotins [e.g., triphenyltin (TPT)] can potently and preferentially inhibit the chymotrypsin-like activity of purified 20S proteasomes and human breast cancer cellular 26S proteasomes. Direct binding of tin atoms to cellular proteasomes is responsible for the observed irreversible inhibition. Inhibition of cellular proteasomes by TPT in several human cell lines results in the accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins and natural proteasome target proteins, accompanied by induction of cell death.

Conclusions: The proteasome is one of the molecular targets of environmental toxic organotins in human cells, and proteasome inhibition by organotins contributes to their cellular toxicity.

Keywords: TPT; cell death; molecular target; organotins; proteasome; proteasome inhibitors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Organotin Compounds / metabolism
  • Organotin Compounds / toxicity*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / drug effects*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Organotin Compounds
  • triphenyltin
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex