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The Myeloma Drug Lenalidomide Promotes the Cereblon-Dependent Destruction of Ikaros Proteins

Science  17 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6168, pp. 305-309
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244917

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Drug With a (Re)Purpose

Thalidomide, once infamous for its deleterious effects on fetal development, has re-emerged as a drug of great interest because of its beneficial immunomodulatory effects. A derivative drug called lenalidomide significantly extends the survival of patients with multiple myeloma, but the molecular mechanisms underlying its efficacy remain unclear (see the Perspective by Stewart). Building on a previous observation that thalidomide binds to cereblon, a ubiquitin ligase, Lu et al. (p. 305, published online 28 November) and Krönke et al. (p. 301, published online 28 November) show that in the presence of lenalidomide, cereblon selectively targets two B cell transcription factors (Ikaros family members, IKZF1 and IKZF3) for degradation. In myeloma cell lines and patient cells, down-regulation of IKZF1 and IKZF3 was necessary and sufficient for the drug's anticancer activity. Thus, lenalidomide may act, at least in part, by “grepurposing” a ubiquitin ligase.

Abstract

Thalidomide-like drugs such as lenalidomide are clinically important treatments for multiple myeloma and show promise for other B cell malignancies. The biochemical mechanisms underlying their antitumor activity are unknown. Thalidomide was recently shown to bind to, and inhibit, the cereblon ubiquitin ligase. Cereblon loss in zebrafish causes fin defects reminiscent of the limb defects seen in children exposed to thalidomide in utero. Here we show that lenalidomide-bound cereblon acquires the ability to target for proteasomal degradation two specific B cell transcription factors, Ikaros family zinc finger proteins 1 and 3 (IKZF1 and IKZF3). Analysis of myeloma cell lines revealed that loss of IKZF1 and IKZF3 is both necessary and sufficient for lenalidomide’s therapeutic effect, suggesting that the antitumor and teratogenic activities of thalidomide-like drugs are dissociable.

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