The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway plays a role in the degradation of the bulk of proteins in the cytoplasmic and nuclear compartments. In this pathway proteins are targeted for degradation by covalent ligation with ubiquitin, a reaction that requires ATP. Following the binding of the first ubiquitin molecule with the e-amino group of a lysine residue of the substrate protein, a polyubiquitin chain is usually formed, in which the C-terminus of each ubiquitin unit is linked to a specific Lys residue of the previous ubiquitin. Central to this pathway is the 26S proteasome, a high molecular mass multifunctional protease which requires ATP for its catalytic activity. Substrates of the 26S proteasome are not only old or damaged proteins, but also short lived proteins functioning as regulatory factors in a large array of cellular processes, such as cell cycle progression, cell growth and gene expression, inflammatory response and immune surveillance. A number of inhibitors of the catalytic activity of proteasomes have been developed and successfully employed in the study of their functional and structural properties, as well as of their involvement in different cellular processes. Some of these molecules due to their toxicity are used only as experimental research tools; others instead are now in clinical trials for treatment of a variety of hematologic malignancies and solid tumors and of reperfusion injury occurring after cerebral ischemia and myocardial infarction. Furthermore, proteasome inhibitors are described to interfere with HIV maturation, budding and aggressiveness, and cytostatic drugs, as well as antiretroviral agents used in HAART, have been shown to behave in vitro and in cultured cell lines as inhibitors of proteasome proteolytic activity at therapeutic dosages.
Keywords: proteasomes, drug targets, ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, nuclear compartments, proteasome inhibitors, hiv maturation, cytostatic drugs
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