Active site-targeted covalent irreversible inhibitors of USP7 impair the functions of Foxp3+ T-regulatory cells by promoting ubiquitination of Tip60

PLoS One. 2017 Dec 13;12(12):e0189744. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189744. eCollection 2017.


Accumulation of Foxp3+ T-regulatory (Treg) cells in the tumor microenvironment is associated with tumor immune evasion and poor patient outcome in the case of many solid tumors. Current therapeutic strategies for blocking Treg functions are not Treg-specific, and display only modest and transient efficacy. Recent studies revealed that ubiquitin-specific protease 7 (USP7) is essential for Treg functions by stabilizing expression of Tip60 and Foxp3, which together are central to the development and maintenance of the Treg cell lineage. Pharmacological inhibition of USP7 is therefore a promising strategy for suppressing Treg functions and promoting anti-tumor immunity. Previously, we reported the P5091 series of small molecule USP7 inhibitors and demonstrated their direct anti-tumor activity in vivo using xenograft models. However, the precise mechanism of action of these compounds was not well defined. In this study, we report the development and characterization of P217564, a second-generation USP7 inhibitor with improved potency and selectivity. P217564 selectively targets the catalytic cleft of USP7 and modifies its active site cysteine (C223) by forming a covalent adduct. Irreversible inhibition of USP7 results in durable downstream biological responses in cells, including down-regulation of Tip60 and consequent impairment of Treg suppressive function. In addition, we demonstrate that both USP7 and various USP7 substrates are subjected to Lys48-mediated ubiquitin modification, consistent with increased proteasomal degradation of these proteins because of USP7 inhibition.

MeSH terms

  • Catalytic Domain
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Histone Acetyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • Ubiquitin-Specific Peptidase 7 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Ubiquitin-Specific Peptidase 7 / metabolism
  • Ubiquitination


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • FOXP3 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Protease Inhibitors
  • Histone Acetyltransferases
  • Tip60 protein, Drosophila
  • USP7 protein, human
  • Ubiquitin-Specific Peptidase 7