Abstract: A hallmark of cancer is dysregulated protein turnover (proteostasis), which involves pathologic ubiquitin-dependent degradation of tumor suppressor proteins, as well as increased oncoprotein stabilization. The latter is due, in part, to mutation within sequences, termed degrons, which are required for oncoprotein recognition by the substrate-recognition enzyme, E3 ubiquitin ligase. Stabilization may also result from the inactivation of the enzymatic machinery that mediates the degradation of oncoproteins. Importantly, inactivation in cancer of E3 enzymes that regulates the physiological degradation of oncoproteins, results in tumor cells that accumulate multiple active oncoproteins with prolonged half-lives, leading to the development of “degradation-resistant” cancer cells. In addition, specific sequences may enable ubiquitinated proteins to evade degradation at the 26S proteasome. While the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway was originally discovered as central for protein degradation, in cancer cells a ubiquitin-dependent protein stabilization pathway actively translates transient mitogenic signals into long-lasting protein stabilization and enhances the activity of key oncoproteins. A central enzyme in this pathway is the ubiquitin ligase RNF4. An intimate link connects protein stabilization with tumorigenesis in experimental models as well as in the clinic, suggesting that pharmacological inhibition of protein stabilization has potential for personalized medicine in cancer. In this review, we highlight old observations and recent advances in our knowledge regarding protein stabilization.
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