Background: Mortalin/GRP-75/mt-hsp70 is a mitochondrial chaperone protein, found in the cytoplasm, endoplasmic reticulum and cytoplasmic vesicles. It functions in many cellular processes such as mitochondrial biogenesis, intracellular trafficking, cell proliferation, signaling, immortalization and tumorigenesis. Thus, inhibition of mortalin is a promising avenue for cancer therapy. Previous studies in our lab have suggested that mortalin contributes to breast cancer development and progression. We showed that tumor extracellular vesicle secretion was decreased by knockdown of mortalin expression using HIV-1 Nef SMR peptides. Specifically, these peptides can block extracellular vesicle secretion and mediate cell cycle arrest in MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells.
Aims: This study aims to investigate further the function and mechanism of interaction of PEG-SMR-CLU and SMR-CPP peptides with the chaperone protein mortalin and to explore the effect of SMR-derived peptides and mortalin expression on extracellular vesicle release and complement dependent cell toxicity in human breast cancer and leukemia cell lines.
Results: Our results demonstrated additional effects reversing the tumorigenicity of these cells. First, the modified SMRwt peptides reduced the expression of the mesenchymal marker vimentin (VIM). Second, exposure to the SMRwt peptide inhibited mortalin and complement C9 expression in MDA-MB-231, MCF-7 breast cancer cells and K562 leukemia cells as measured by the Western blot analysis. Third, the SMRwt peptides blocked the cancer cells’ ability to release extracellular vesicles, which we observed blocked extracellular vesicle-mediated release of complement, re-establishing complements mediated cell death in those peptide-treated cells.
Methods: We developed a series of peptides derived from the Secretion Modification Region (SMR) of HIV-1 Nef protein, modified by the addition of either a cell-penetrating peptide (CPP), a positively charged arginine-rich peptide derived from HIV-1 regulatory protein Tat, or a Clusterin-binding peptide (CLU), a molecular chaperone involved in protein secretion. Both CPP and CLU peptide sequences were added at the C-terminus of the Nef SMR peptide. The CLU-containing peptides were also modified with polyethylene glycol (PEG) to enhance solubility. After treatment of cells with the peptides, we used the MTT cell viability and complement-mediated cytotoxicity assays to confirm the inhibitory role of modified SMRwt peptides on the proliferation of MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells and K562 leukemia cells. Flow cytometry was used to determine complement mediated cell apoptosis and death. Western blot analysis was used to track SMR peptides impact on expression of mortalin, vimentin and complement C9 and to measure the expression of extracellular vesicle proteins. NanoSight analysis and acetylcholinesterase (AChE) assay were used for measuring extracellular vesicles particle size and concentration and acetylcholinesterase.
Conclusions: Mortalin promotes cell proliferation, metastasis, angiogenesis, downregulate apoptotic signaling. Thus, mortalin is a potential therapeutic target for cancer immunotherapy. The novel SMRwt peptides antagonize the functions of mortalin, blocking tumor extracellular vesicle release and extracellular vesicle-mediated release of complement. This leads to decreases in breast cancer cell metastasis and allows standard treatment of these late stage tumor cells, thus having important clinical implications for late stage breast cancer chemotherapy. These findings support further investigation into the therapeutic value of the SMR peptide in cancer metastasis.