Therapeutic Potential of Targeting the SUMO Pathway in Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Aug 31;13(17):4402. doi: 10.3390/cancers13174402.


SUMOylation is a dynamic and reversible post-translational modification, characterized more than 20 years ago, that regulates protein function at multiple levels. Key oncoproteins and tumor suppressors are SUMO substrates. In addition to alterations in SUMO pathway activity due to conditions typically present in cancer, such as hypoxia, the SUMO machinery components are deregulated at the genomic level in cancer. The delicate balance between SUMOylation and deSUMOylation is regulated by SENP enzymes possessing SUMO-deconjugation activity. Dysregulation of SUMO machinery components can disrupt the balance of SUMOylation, contributing to the tumorigenesis and drug resistance of various cancers in a context-dependent manner. Many molecular mechanisms relevant to the pathogenesis of specific cancers involve SUMO, highlighting the potential relevance of SUMO machinery components as therapeutic targets. Recent advances in the development of inhibitors targeting SUMOylation and deSUMOylation permit evaluation of the therapeutic potential of targeting the SUMO pathway in cancer. Finally, the first drug inhibiting SUMO pathway, TAK-981, is currently also being evaluated in clinical trials in cancer patients. Intriguingly, the inhibition of SUMOylation may also have the potential to activate the anti-tumor immune response. Here, we comprehensively and systematically review the recent developments in understanding the role of SUMOylation in cancer and specifically focus on elaborating the scientific rationale of targeting the SUMO pathway in different cancers.

Keywords: cancer; post-translational modification (PTM); protein inhibitor of activated STAT (PIAS); sentrin-specific protease (SENP); small ubiquitin-like modifier (SUMO).

Publication types

  • Review