Research Papers:

Downregulation of SOX2 by inhibition of Usp9X induces apoptosis in melanoma

Harish Potu, Malathi Kandarpa, Luke F. Peterson, Alison Durham, Nicholas J. Donato and Moshe Talpaz _

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Oncotarget. 2021; 12:160-172. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.27869

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Harish Potu1, Malathi Kandarpa1, Luke F. Peterson1, Alison Durham2, Nicholas J. Donato3,* and Moshe Talpaz1,*

1 Department of Internal Medicine/Division of Hematology/Oncology, University of Michigan, School of Medicine and Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

2 Department of Dermatology, University of Michigan School of Medicine, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

3 Center for Scientific Review, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

* These authors jointly supervised this work

Correspondence to:

Moshe Talpaz,email: [email protected]

Keywords: melanoma; deubiquitinase (DUB) enzyme; transcription factors; USP9X; DUB inhibitor

Received: September 28, 2020     Accepted: January 07, 2021     Published: February 02, 2021

Copyright: © 2021 Potu et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Melanoma tumors driven by BRAF mutations often do not respond to BRAF/MEK/ERK pathway inhibitors currently used in treatment. One documented mechanism of resistance is upregulation of SOX2, a transcription factor that is essential for tumor growth and expansion, particularly in melanoma tumors with BRAF mutations. Targeting transcription factors pharmacologically has been elusive for drug developers, limiting treatment options. Here we show that ubiquitin-specific peptidase 9, X-linked (Usp9x), a deubiquitinase (DUB) enzyme controls SOX2 levels in melanoma. Usp9x knockdown in melanoma increased SOX2 ubiquitination, leading to its depletion, and enhanced apoptotic effects of BRAF inhibitor and MEK inhibitors. Primary metastatic melanoma samples demonstrated moderately elevated Usp9x and SOX2 protein expression compared to tumors without metastatic potential. Usp9x knockdown, as well as inhibition with DUB inhibitor, G9, blocked SOX2 expression, suppressed in vitro colony growth, and induced apoptosis of BRAF-mutant melanoma cells. Combined treatment with Usp9x and mutant BRAF inhibitors fully suppressed melanoma growth in vivo. Our data demonstrate a novel mechanism for targeting the transcription factor SOX2, leveraging Usp9x inhibition. Thus, development of DUB inhibitors may add to the limited repertoire of current melanoma treatments.

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