Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most difficult to treat human cancers despite recent advances in targeted therapy. Inhibition of Isoprenylcysteine carboxylmethyltransferase (ICMT), an enzyme that post-translationally modifies a group of proteins including several small GTPases, suppresses proliferation of some human cancer cells. However, the efficacy of ICMT inhibition on human pancreatic cancer has not been evaluated. In this study we have evaluated a panel of human pancreatic cancer cell lines and identified those that are sensitive to ICMT inhibition. In these cells, ICMT suppression inhibited proliferation and induced apoptosis. This responsiveness to ICMT inhibition was confirmed in in vivo xenograft tumor mouse models using both a small molecule inhibitor and shRNA targeting Icmt. Mechanistically, we found that that, in sensitive pancreatic cancer cells, ICMT inhibition induced mitochondrial respiratory deficiency and cellular energy depletion, leading to significant up-regulation of p21. Further, we characterized the role of p21 as a regulator and coordinator of cell signaling that responds to cell energy depletion. Apoptosis, but not autophagy, that is induced via p21-activated BNIP3 expression accounts for the efficacy of ICMT inhibition in sensitive pancreatic cancer cells in both in vitro and in vivo models. In contrast, cells resistant to ICMT inhibition-demonstrated no mitochondria dysfunction or p21 signaling changes under ICMT suppression. These findings not only identify pancreatic cancers as potential therapeutic targets for ICMT suppression, but also provide an avenue for identifying those subtypes that would be most responsive to agents targeting this critical enzyme.
- Received October 23, 2016.
- Revision received January 24, 2017.
- Accepted January 24, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.