The 26S proteasome is the enzymatic core engine of the ubiquitin and proteasome dependent proteolytic system (UPS), the major eukaryotic pathway for regulated protein degradation. The UPS plays a pivotal role in cellular protein turnover, protein quality control, antigen processing, signal transduction, cell cycle regulation, cell differentiation and apoptosis, inspiring in-depth studies of proteasome structure and function and the search for selective inhibitors. Structural studies revealed that the 26S proteasome comprises up to two 19S regulatory caps flanking a cylindrical 20S core particle, which houses the proteolytic subunits and is present in all kingdoms of life. This review highlights current understanding of 20S architecture, maturation and assembly, the mechanism for selective degradation of protein substrates targeted for destruction, and relationships to other proteases. This knowledge base has benefited from structurally diverse proteasome inhibitors discovered from unique sources, including terrestrial and marine actinomycetes that produce the β-lactone-γ- lactam superfamily of inhibitors, including omuralide, salinosporamide A (marizomib; NPI-0052) and the cinnabaramides. These “minimalist inhibitors” utilize dense functionality to maximum efficiency for potent and selective proteasome inhibition and have advanced from biochemical tools to potential agrochemicals and anticancer agents. In this review, lessons learned from the β-lactone-γ-lactam superfamily are presented, with an emphasis on their unique binding mechanisms elucidated through structural biology in concert with medicinal chemistry. Distinctions between slowly reversible and irreversible inhibitors are discussed, together with the relationship of irreversible binding at the molecular level to prolonged duration proteasome inhibition in tumor cells, and in vitro and in vivo efficacy.
Keywords: Proteasome, ubiquitin-pathway, beta-lactone inhibitor, structure-activity relationship, medicinal chemistry, drug design, cancer therapy, irreversible binding, cell cycle regulation, nuclear proteins, eukaryotic proteasomes, hydrolytic chamber, bleomycin hydrolase, oligopeptides
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