Cancer cells depend on signals that promote cell cycle progression and prevent programmed cell death that would otherwise result from cumulative, aberrant stress. These activities require the temporally controlled destruction of specific intracellular proteins by the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS). To a large extent, the control points in this process include a family of E3 ubiquitin ligases called cullin-RING ligases (CRLs). The ligase activity of these multicomponent complexes requires modification of the cullin protein situated at their core with a ubiquitin-like protein called NEDD8. Neddylation results in conformational rearrangements within the CRL, which are necessary for ubiquitin transfer to a substrate. The NEDD8 pathway thus has a critical role in mediating the ubiquitination of numerous CRL substrate proteins involved in cell cycle progression and survival including the DNA replication licensing factor Cdt-1, the NF-κB transcription factor inhibitor pIκBα, and the cell cycle regulators cyclin E and p27. The initial step required for attachment of NEDD8 to a cullin is catalyzed by the E1, NEDD8-activating enzyme (NAE). The first-in-class inhibitor of NAE, MLN4924, has been shown to block the activity of NAE and prevent the subsequent neddylation of cullins. Preclinical studies have demonstrated antitumor activity in various solid tumors and hematological malignancies, and preliminary clinical data have shown the anticipated pharmacodynamic effects in humans. Here, we review the NEDD8 pathway, its importance in cancer, and the therapeutic potential of NAE inhibition.
Keywords: DNA rereplication; NEDD8; cullin-RING ligase; ubiquitin.