Therapeutic targeting of the PI4K2A/PKR lysosome network is critical for misfolded protein clearance and survival in cancer cells

Oncogene. 2020 Jan;39(4):801-813. doi: 10.1038/s41388-019-1010-4. Epub 2019 Sep 25.


The role of RNA-dependent protein kinase R (PKR) and its association with misfolded protein expression in cancer cells are unclear. Herein we report that PKR regulates misfolded protein clearance by preventing it release through exosomes and promoting lysosomal degradation of misfolded prion proteins in cancer cells. We demonstrated that PKR contributes to the lysosome function and regulates misfolded prion protein clearance. We hypothesized that PKR-associated lysosome function is critical for cancer but not normal cell survival, representing an effective approach for highly targeted cancer therapy. In screening a compound library, we identified two PKR-associated compounds 1 and 2 (Pac 1 and 2) did not affect normal cells but selectively induced cell death in cancer cells depending on their PKR expression status. Pac 1 significantly inhibited the growth of human lung and breast xenograft tumors in mice with no toxicity. Pac 1 binds to PI4K2A and disrupts the PKR/PI4K2A-associated lysosome complex, contributing to destabilization of cancer cell lysosomes and triggering cell death. We observed that PKR and PI4K2A play significant prognostic roles in breast cancer patients. These results demonstrate that targeting of a PI4K2A/PKR lysosome complex may be an effective approach for cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival
  • Databases, Genetic / statistics & numerical data
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Minor Histocompatibility Antigens / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor) / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor) / metabolism
  • Prognosis
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteolysis*
  • Survival Rate
  • Unfolded Protein Response*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays
  • eIF-2 Kinase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • eIF-2 Kinase / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Minor Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor)
  • phosphatidylinositol phosphate 4-kinase
  • EIF2AK2 protein, human
  • eIF-2 Kinase