Statin-Induced Cancer Cell Death Can Be Mechanistically Uncoupled from Prenylation of RAS Family Proteins

Cancer Res. 2018 Mar 1;78(5):1347-1357. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-17-1231. Epub 2017 Dec 11.


The statin family of drugs preferentially triggers tumor cell apoptosis by depleting mevalonate pathway metabolites farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP) and geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP), which are used for protein prenylation, including the oncoproteins of the RAS superfamily. However, accumulating data indicate that activation of the RAS superfamily are poor biomarkers of statin sensitivity, and the mechanism of statin-induced tumor-specific apoptosis remains unclear. Here we demonstrate that cancer cell death triggered by statins can be uncoupled from prenylation of the RAS superfamily of oncoproteins. Ectopic expression of different members of the RAS superfamily did not uniformly sensitize cells to fluvastatin, indicating that increased cellular demand for protein prenylation cannot explain increased statin sensitivity. Although ectopic expression of HRAS increased statin sensitivity, expression of myristoylated HRAS did not rescue this effect. HRAS-induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) through activation of zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 1 (ZEB1) sensitized tumor cells to the antiproliferative activity of statins, and induction of EMT by ZEB1 was sufficient to phenocopy the increase in fluvastatin sensitivity; knocking out ZEB1 reversed this effect. Publicly available gene expression and statin sensitivity data indicated that enrichment of EMT features was associated with increased sensitivity to statins in a large panel of cancer cell lines across multiple cancer types. These results indicate that the anticancer effect of statins is independent from prenylation of RAS family proteins and is associated with a cancer cell EMT phenotype.Significance: The use of statins to target cancer cell EMT may be useful as a therapy to block cancer progression. Cancer Res; 78(5); 1347-57. ©2017 AACR.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / drug effects*
  • Fluvastatin / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Mevalonic Acid / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Polyisoprenyl Phosphates / metabolism
  • Protein Prenylation / drug effects*
  • Sesquiterpenes / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Zinc Finger E-box-Binding Homeobox 1 / genetics
  • Zinc Finger E-box-Binding Homeobox 1 / metabolism*
  • ras Proteins / genetics
  • ras Proteins / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Polyisoprenyl Phosphates
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • ZEB1 protein, human
  • Zinc Finger E-box-Binding Homeobox 1
  • Fluvastatin
  • farnesyl pyrophosphate
  • ras Proteins
  • geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate
  • Mevalonic Acid