The cytosolic protein c-FLIP (cellular Fas-associated death domain-like interleukin 1β-converting enzyme inhibitory protein) is an inhibitor of death receptor-mediated apoptosis that is up-regulated in a variety of cancers, contributing to apoptosis resistance. Several compounds found to restore sensitivity of cancer cells to TRAIL, a TNF family death ligand with promising therapeutic potential, act by targeting c-FLIP ubiquitination and degradation by the proteasome. The generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) has been implicated in c-FLIP protein degradation. However, the mechanism by which ROS post-transcriptionally regulate c-FLIP protein levels is not well understood. We show here that treatment of prostate cancer PPC-1 cells with the superoxide generators menadione or paraquat down-regulates c-FLIP long (c-FLIPL) protein levels, which is prevented by the proteasome inhibitor MG132. Furthermore, pretreatment of PPC-1 cells with a ROS scavenger prevented ubiquitination and loss of c-FLIPL protein induced by menadione or paraquat. We identified lysine 167 as a novel ubiquitination site of c-FLIPL important for ROS-dependent degradation. We also identified threonine 166 as a novel phosphorylation site and demonstrate that T166 phosphorylation is required for ROS-induced K167 ubiquitination. The mutation of either T166 or K167 was sufficient to stabilize c-FLIP protein levels in PPC-1, HEK293T, and HeLa cancer cells treated with menadione or paraquat. Accordingly, expression of c-FLIP T166A or K167R mutants protected cells from ROS-mediated sensitization to TRAIL-induced cell death. Our findings reveal novel ROS-dependent post-translational modifications of c-FLIP that regulate c-FLIP protein degradation and subsequent sensitization of cancer cells to TRAIL.

Citation Format: Rachel P. Wilkie-Grantham, Shu-Ichi Matsuzawa, John C. Reed. Novel phosphorylation and ubiquitination sites regulate ROS-dependent degradation of c-FLIP and sensitization of cancer cells to TRAIL. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 104th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2013 Apr 6-10; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2013;73(8 Suppl):Abstract nr 4609. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2013-4609