Ubiquitination: Friend and foe in cancer

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2018 Aug:101:80-93. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2018.06.001. Epub 2018 Jun 1.


Dynamic modulation and posttranslational modification of proteins are tightly controlled biological processes that occur in response to physiological cues. One such dynamic modulation is ubiquitination, which marks proteins for degradation via the proteasome, altering their localization, affecting their activity, and promoting or interfering with protein interactions. Hence, ubiquitination is crucial for a plethora of physiological processes, including cell survival, differentiation and innate and adaptive immunity. Similar to kinases, components of the ubiquitination system are often deregulated, leading to a variety of diseases, such as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. In a context-dependent manner, ubiquitination can regulate both tumor-suppressing and tumor-promoting pathways in cancer. This review outlines how components of the ubiquitination systems (e.g. E3 ligases and deubiquitinases) act as oncogenes or tumor suppressors according to the nature of their substrates. Furthermore, I interrogate how the current knowledge of the differential roles of ubiquitination in cancer lead to technical advances to inhibit or reactivate the components of the ubiquitination system accordingly.

Keywords: Cancer; Deubiquitinating enzyme; E3 ligases; Hydrophobic tag; MDM2; P53; PROTAC; SCF complex; ubiquitin–proteasome system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Atlases as Topic
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology
  • DNA Damage
  • Deubiquitinating Enzymes / genetics*
  • Deubiquitinating Enzymes / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Mitophagy / genetics
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*
  • Proteolysis
  • Signal Transduction
  • Ubiquitin / genetics*
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / genetics*
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism
  • Ubiquitination


  • Ubiquitin
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • Deubiquitinating Enzymes
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex