Introduction: The flexible heteroarotinoid (Flex-Het), SHetA2, is a novel anticancer drug that induces both intrinsic and extrinsic apoptosis and autophagy in cancer cells, but not in normal cells. Protein isolation / mass spectrometry analysis using SHetA2-coupled polystyrene magnetic beads yielded three SHetA2-binding proteins all belonging to HSPA family namely, HSPA9/mortalin, HSPA8/Hsc70 and HSPA5/BiP. Mortalin, in addition to its vital chaperoning roles in other organelles of the cell, is essential for import and folding of nuclear-encoded mitochondrial proteins. The precursor form of mortalin has a 46-amino acid N-terminal region that functions as a mitochondrial localization sequence (MLS) and is cleaved by proteases after import into the mitochondrial matrix.

Hypothesis: SHetA2 binding to mortalin causes alterations that can be measured to study mechanism and monitor drug effects in animal models and clinical trials.

Methods: Western blots of whole cell or subcellular protein extracts made from cultures of normal human fallopian tube secretory or mammary epithelial cells, rat mammary tumors or human ovarian cancer cell lines treated with SHetA2 or solvent were probed with an antibody that recognizes total mortalin, a custom-made rabbit polyclonal antibody specific for the mortalin MLS (PA8238) or antibodies to loading control proteins. Immunocytochemistry using these antibodies was performed with an automated (Leica Bond III) IHC work station on cells treated with SHetA2 or solvent.

Results: Using a commercial antibody against total mortalin, we observed a lower-mobility band closely moving above the specific (mature) mortalin band in Western blots. Our mortalin MLS-specific antibody recognized only the lower-mobility band confirming it as the precursor form of mortalin in the SHetA2-treated cell extracts. Subcellular fractionation of the drug-treated cells revealed that the precursor protein accumulated only in the cytoplasm and not in the mitochondria. Staining of whole cells with an antibody to total mortalin showed no effect of SHetA2 treatment on the punctate pattern of expression consistent with mitochondrial localization. In contrast, staining with the mortalin MLS-specific antibody demonstrated that SHetA2 increased the intensity of the diffuse cytoplasmic staining consistent with localization of mortalin throughout the cytoplasm. These results were consistently observed among the various cell types.

Conclusions: SHetA2 is the only known drug that blocks the translocation of the precursor mortalin to mitochondria and its processing to mature protein. Such cytoplasmic accumulation of the precursor form of mortalin can potentially serve as pharmacodynamic endpoint to study SHetA2’s effect in laboratory experimental tumor models as well as in human clinical trials. Funding: NCI PREVENT Task Order HHSN26100002

Citation Format: Elangovan Thavathiru, Vishal Chandra, Rajani Rai, Doris Benbrook. Mortalin precursor as potential marker for chemoprevention with SHetA2 [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 1798. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-1798