The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway plays a critical role in the degradation of cellular proteins related to signal transduction. Cytokine and growth factor-dependent aberrant proliferation has been implicated in renal cell carcinoma (RCC). We hypothesized that inhibiting the proteasome function might activate a proapoptotic signal transduction by modulating the cytokine and growth factor related signal transduction pathway. We therefore investigated the effectiveness of a proteasome inhibitor in the treatment of RCC regarding the involvement of Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAP kinases), because MAP kinases are major signal transduction molecules that are known to play a pivotal role in cancer cell proliferation or apoptosis triggered by extra-cellular cytokines and growth factors. A proteasome inhibitor, MG132 inhibited the proliferation of RCC cell lines, 786-O and KU20-01 in a time and dose-dependent manner. 786-O cells have truncated von-Hippel Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene protein due to a one base pair deletion at exon 1, whereas KU20-01 cells have a wild-type VHL protein. MG132 induced apoptosis in both cell lines. The inhibition of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathways was confirmed by the accumulation of ubiquitin-tagged proteins. MG132 induced the phosphorylation of ERK at 4 h and thereafter persisted for 8 to 16 h. In contrast, JNK and p38 activation persisted for longer periods and remained enhanced until 24 h. The concomitant activation of effector caspases, caspase-3 and caspase-7 was observed in 786-O cells. The inhibition of the proteasome function can induce apoptosis in RCC irrespective of the VHL protein status. The persistence of JNK and p38 activation may therefore be a unique mechanism underlying MG132 induced apoptosis.
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