Proteasome inhibitors activate autophagy as a cytoprotective response in human prostate cancer cells

K. Zhu, K. Dunner, D. J. McConkey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Scopus citations


The ubiquitin-proteasome and lysosome-autophagy pathways are the two major intracellular protein degradation systems that work cooperatively to maintain homeostasis. Proteasome inhibitors (PIs) have clinical activity in hematological tumors, and inhibitors of autophagy are also being evaluated as potential antitumor therapies. In this study, we found that chemical PIs and small interfering RNA-mediated knockdown of the proteasome's enzymatic subunits promoted autophagosome formation, stimulated autophagic flux, and upregulated expression of the autophagy-specific genes (ATGs) (ATG5 and ATG7) in some human prostate cancer cells and immortalized mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs). Upregulation of ATG5 and ATG7 only occurred in cells displaying PI-induced phosphorylation of the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 alpha (eIF2α), an important component of the unfolded protein responses. Furthermore, PIs did not induce autophagy or upregulate ATG5 in MEFs expressing a phosphorylation-deficient mutant form of eIF2α. Combined inhibition of autophagy and the proteasome induced an accumulation of intracellular protein aggregates reminiscent of neuronal inclusion bodies and caused more cancer cell death than blocking either degradation pathway alone. Overall, our data show that proteasome inhibition activates autophagy through a phospho-eIF2α- dependent mechanism to eliminate protein aggregates and alleviate proteotoxic stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-462
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Autophagy
  • Bortezomib
  • NPI-0052
  • Prostate cancer
  • Unfolded protein response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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