Palmitoylation of proteins in cancer

Biochem Soc Trans. 2017 Apr 15;45(2):409-416. doi: 10.1042/BST20160233.


Post-translational modification of proteins by attachment of palmitate serves as a mechanism to regulate protein localization and function in both normal and malignant cells. Given the essential role that palmitoylation plays in cancer cell signaling, approaches that target palmitoylated proteins and palmitoyl acyltransferases (PATs) have the potential for therapeutic intervention in cancer. Highlighted here are recent advances in understanding the importance of protein palmitoylation in tumorigenic pathways. A new study has uncovered palmitoylation sites within the epidermal growth factor receptor that regulate receptor trafficking, signaling and sensitivity to tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Global data analysis from nearly 150 cancer studies reveals genomic alterations in several PATs that may account for their ability to function as tumor suppressors or oncogenes. Selective inhibitors have recently been developed that target hedgehog acyltransferase (Hhat) and Porcupine (Porcn), the acyltransferases that modify hedgehog and Wnt proteins, respectively. These inhibitors, coupled with targeted knockdown of Hhat and Porcn, reveal the essential functions of fatty acylation of secreted morphogens in a wide variety of human tumors.

Keywords: Hedgehog proteins; Wnt proteins; palmitoyl acyltransferase; palmitoylation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acyltransferases / genetics
  • Acyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • ErbB Receptors / chemistry
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Palmitates / metabolism*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism


  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Palmitates
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Wnt Proteins
  • Acyltransferases
  • ErbB Receptors