Betulinic acid selectively increases protein degradation and enhances prostate cancer-specific apoptosis: possible role for inhibition of deubiquitinase activity.
PLoS One. 2013 ;8(2):e56234. Epub 2013 Feb 12. PMID: 23424652
Inhibition of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) of protein degradation is a valid anti-cancer strategy and has led to the approval of bortezomib for the treatment of multiple myeloma. However, the alternative approach of enhancing the degradation of oncoproteins that are frequently overexpressed in cancers is less developed. Betulinic acid (BA) is a plant-derived small molecule that can increase apoptosis specifically in cancer but not in normal cells, making it an attractive anti-cancer agent. Our results in prostate cancer suggested that BA inhibited multiple deubiquitinases (DUBs), which resulted in the accumulation of poly-ubiquitinated proteins, decreased levels of oncoproteins, and increased apoptotic cell death. In normal fibroblasts, however, BA did not inhibit DUB activity nor increased total poly-ubiquitinated proteins, which was associated with a lack of effect on cell death. In the TRAMP transgenic mouse model of prostate cancer, treatment with BA (10 mg/kg) inhibited primary tumors, increased apoptosis, decreased angiogenesis and proliferation, and lowered androgen receptor and cyclin D1 protein. BA treatment also inhibited DUB activity and increased ubiquitinated proteins in TRAMP prostate cancer but had no effect on apoptosis or ubiquitination in normal mouse tissues. Overall, our data suggests that BA-mediated inhibition of DUBs and induction of apoptotic cell death specifically in prostate cancer but not in normal cells and tissues may provide an effective non-toxic and clinically selective agent for chemotherapy.