Benzoquinone, a leukemogenic metabolite of benzene, catalytically inhibits the protein tyrosine phosphatase PTPN2 and alters STAT1 signaling

J Biol Chem. 2019 Aug 16;294(33):12483-12494. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.008666. Epub 2019 Jun 27.


Protein tyrosine phosphatase, nonreceptor type 2 (PTPN2) is mainly expressed in hematopoietic cells, where it negatively regulates growth factor and cytokine signaling. PTPN2 is an important regulator of hematopoiesis and immune/inflammatory responses, as evidenced by loss-of-function mutations of PTPN2 in leukemia and lymphoma and knockout mice studies. Benzene is an environmental chemical that causes hematological malignancies, and its hematotoxicity arises from its bioactivation in the bone marrow to electrophilic metabolites, notably 1,4-benzoquinone, a major hematotoxic benzene metabolite. Although the molecular bases for benzene-induced leukemia are not well-understood, it has been suggested that benzene metabolites alter topoisomerases II function and thereby significantly contribute to leukemogenesis. However, several studies indicate that benzene and its hematotoxic metabolites may also promote the leukemogenic process by reacting with other targets and pathways. Interestingly, alterations of cell-signaling pathways, such as Janus kinase (JAK)/signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT), have been proposed to contribute to benzene-induced malignant blood diseases. We show here that 1,4-benzoquinone directly impairs PTPN2 activity. Mechanistic and kinetic experiments with purified human PTPN2 indicated that this impairment results from the irreversible formation (kinact = 645 m-1·s-1) of a covalent 1,4-benzoquinone adduct at the catalytic cysteine residue of the enzyme. Accordingly, cell experiments revealed that 1,4-benzoquinone exposure irreversibly inhibits cellular PTPN2 and concomitantly increases tyrosine phosphorylation of STAT1 and expression of STAT1-regulated genes. Our results provide molecular and cellular evidence that 1,4-benzoquinone covalently modifies key signaling enzymes, implicating it in benzene-induced malignant blood diseases.

Keywords: benzene; bioactivation; cancer; carcinogen; carcinogenesis; cell signaling; covalent adduct; enzyme inactivation; enzyme inhibition; leukemia; leukemogenesis; metabolic activation; protein tyrosine phosphatase non-receptor type 2 (PTPN2); tyrosine-protein phosphatase (tyrosine phosphatase).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Benzene* / pharmacokinetics
  • Benzene* / pharmacology
  • Benzoquinones / metabolism*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Leukemia* / genetics
  • Leukemia* / metabolism
  • Leukemia* / pathology
  • Neoplasm Proteins* / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Neoplasm Proteins* / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins* / metabolism
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase, Non-Receptor Type 2* / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase, Non-Receptor Type 2* / genetics
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase, Non-Receptor Type 2* / metabolism
  • STAT1 Transcription Factor* / genetics
  • STAT1 Transcription Factor* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Benzoquinones
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • STAT1 Transcription Factor
  • STAT1 protein, human
  • quinone
  • PTPN2 protein, human
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase, Non-Receptor Type 2
  • Benzene

Associated data

  • PDB/1L8K