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Brüning, Ansgar; Jückstock, Julia (2015): Misfolded proteins: from little villains to little helpers in the fight against cancer. In: Frontiers in Oncology, Vol. 5, 47
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Abstract

The application of cytostatic drugs targeting the high proliferation rates of cancer cells is currently the most commonly used treatment option in cancer chemotherapy. However, severe side effects and resistance mechanisms may occur as a result of such treatment, possibly limiting the therapeutic efficacy of these agents. In recent years, several therapeutic strategies have been developed that aim at targeting not the genomic integrity and replication machinery of cancer cells but instead their protein homeostasis. During malignant transformation, the cancer cell proteome develops vast aberrations in the expression of mutated proteins, oncoproteins, drug- and apoptosis-resistance proteins, etc. A complex network of protein quality-control mechanisms, including chaperoning by heat shock proteins (HSPs), not only is essential for maintaining the extravagant proteomic lifestyle of cancer cells but also represents an ideal cancer-specific target to be tackled. Furthermore, the high rate of protein synthesis and turnover in certain types of cancer cells can be specifically directed by interfering with the proteasomal and autophagosomal protein recycling and degradation machinery, as evidenced by the clinical application of proteasome inhibitors. Since proteins with loss of their native conformation are prone to unspecific aggregations and have proved to be detrimental to normal cellular function, specific induction of misfolded proteins by HSP inhibitors, proteasome inhibitors, hyperthermia, or inducers of endoplasmic reticulum stress represents a new method of cancer cell killing exploitable for therapeutic purposes. This review describes drugs approved, repurposed, or under investigation that can be used to accumulate misfolded proteins in cancer cells, and particularly focuses on the molecular aspects that lead to the cytotoxicity of misfolded proteins in cancer cells.