Due to their altered metabolism cancer cells are more sensitive to proteasome inhibition or changes of copper levels than normal cells. Thus, the development of copper complexes endowed with proteasome inhibition features has emerged as a promising anticancer strategy. However, limited information is available about the exact mechanism by which copper inhibits proteasome. Here we show that Cu(II) ions simultaneously inhibit the three peptidase activities of isolated 20S proteasomes with potencies (IC 50) in the micromolar range. Cu(II) ions, in cell-free conditions, neither catalyze red-ox reactions nor disrupt the assembly of the 20S proteasome but, rather, promote conformational changes associated to impaired channel gating. Notably, HeLa cells grown in a Cu(II)-supplemented medium exhibit decreased proteasome activity. This effect, however, was attenuated in the presence of an antioxidant. Our results suggest that if, on one hand, Cu(II)-inhibited 20S activities may be associated to conformational changes that favor the closed state of the core particle, on the other hand the complex effect induced by Cu(II) ions in cancer cells is the result of several concurring events including ROS-mediated proteasome flooding, and disassembly of the 26S proteasome into its 20S and 19S components.
ASJC Scopus subject areas