Ribosomal proteins and human diseases: molecular mechanisms and targeted therapy

Signal Transduct Target Ther. 2021 Aug 30;6(1):323. doi: 10.1038/s41392-021-00728-8.


Ribosome biogenesis and protein synthesis are fundamental rate-limiting steps for cell growth and proliferation. The ribosomal proteins (RPs), comprising the structural parts of the ribosome, are essential for ribosome assembly and function. In addition to their canonical ribosomal functions, multiple RPs have extra-ribosomal functions including activation of p53-dependent or p53-independent pathways in response to stress, resulting in cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Defects in ribosome biogenesis, translation, and the functions of individual RPs, including mutations in RPs have been linked to a diverse range of human congenital disorders termed ribosomopathies. Ribosomopathies are characterized by tissue-specific phenotypic abnormalities and higher cancer risk later in life. Recent discoveries of somatic mutations in RPs in multiple tumor types reinforce the connections between ribosomal defects and cancer. In this article, we review the most recent advances in understanding the molecular consequences of RP mutations and ribosomal defects in ribosomopathies and cancer. We particularly discuss the molecular basis of the transition from hypo- to hyper-proliferation in ribosomopathies with elevated cancer risk, a paradox termed "Dameshek's riddle." Furthermore, we review the current treatments for ribosomopathies and prospective therapies targeting ribosomal defects. We also highlight recent advances in ribosome stress-based cancer therapeutics. Importantly, insights into the mechanisms of resistance to therapies targeting ribosome biogenesis bring new perspectives into the molecular basis of cancer susceptibility in ribosomopathies and new clinical implications for cancer therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle Checkpoints / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / therapy
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Ribosomal Proteins / genetics*
  • Ribosomal Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Ribosomes / genetics


  • Ribosomal Proteins