USP22 promotes HER2-driven mammary carcinoma aggressiveness by suppressing the unfolded protein response

Prokakis E, Dyas A, Grün R, Fritzsche S, U Bedi, Kazerouni ZB, Kosinsky RL, Johnsen SA, Wegwitz F

Oncogene 2021 May 18.


The Ubiquitin-Specific Protease 22 (USP22) is a deubiquitinating subunit of the mammalian SAGA transcriptional co-activating complex. USP22 was identified as a member of the so-called “death-from-cancer” signature predicting therapy failure in cancer patients. However, the importance and functional role of USP22 in different types and subtypes of cancer remain largely unknown. In the present study, we leveraged human cell lines and genetic mouse models to investigate the role of USP22 in HER2-driven breast cancer (HER2+-BC) and demonstrate for the first time that USP22 is required for the tumorigenic properties in murine and human HER2+-BC models. To get insight into the underlying mechanisms, we performed transcriptome-wide gene expression analyses and identified the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR) as a pathway deregulated upon USP22 loss. The UPR is normally induced upon extrinsic or intrinsic stresses that can promote cell survival and recovery if shortly activated or programmed cell death if activated for an extended period. Strikingly, we found that USP22 actively suppresses UPR induction in HER2+-BC cells by stabilizing the major endoplasmic reticulum (ER) chaperone HSPA5. Consistently, loss of USP22 renders tumor cells more sensitive to apoptosis and significantly increases the efficiency of therapies targeting the ER folding capacity. Together, our data suggest that therapeutic strategies targeting USP22 activity may sensitize tumor cells to UPR induction and could provide a novel, effective approach to treat HER2+-BC.