Combination of artesunate and WNT974 induces KRAS protein degradation by upregulating E3 ligase ANACP2 and β-TrCP in the ubiquitin–proteasome pathway

Rui Hong Gong, Minting Chen, Chunhua Huang, Hoi Leong Xavier Wong, Hiu Yee Kwan*, Zhaoxiang Bian*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: KRAS mutation is one of the dominant gene mutations in colorectal cancer (CRC). Up to present, targeting KRAS for CRC treatment remains a clinical challenge. WNT974 (LGK974) is a porcupine inhibitor that interferes Wnt signaling pathway. Artesunate (ART) is a water-soluble semi-synthetic derivative of artemisinin. 

Methods: The synergistic effect of ART and WNT974 combination in reducing CRC cell viability was determined by the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. RT-PCR was utilized for the mRNA levels of KRAS, CUL7, ANAPC2, UBE2M, RNF123, SYVN1, or β-TrCP. Western blot assay was utilized for the protein levels of NRAS, HRAS, KRAS, ANAPC2, β-TrCP, GSK-3β, p-Akt (Ser473), t-Akt, p-PI3K (Tyr458), t-PI3K, p-mTOR (Ser2448), t-mTOR. Xenograft mouse model assay was performed for the anti-CRC effect of combination of ART and WNT974 in vivo. IHC assay was utilized for the levels of KRAS, β-TrCP, GSK-3β or ANAPC2 in tumor tissues. 

Results: Our study shows that the combination of WNT974 and ART exhibits synergistic effect in reducing CRC growth. The combination treatment significantly reduces KRAS protein level and activity in CRC cells. Interestingly, the combination treatment increases E3 ligases ANAPC2 expression. Our data show that overexpression of ANAPC2 significantly reduces KRAS protein levels, which is reversed by MG132. Knockdown of ANAPC2 in CRC abolishes the combination treatment-reduce KRAS expression. Besides, the treatment also increases the expressions of GSK-3β and E3 ligase β-TrCP that is known to degrade GSK-3β-phosphorylated KRAS protein. Knockdown of β-TrCP- and inhibition of GSK-3β abolish the combination treatment-induce KRAS ubiquitination and reduction in expression. Last but not least, combination treatment suppresses PI3K/Akt/m-TOR signaling pathway. 

Conclusions: Our data clearly show that the combination treatment significantly enhances KRAS protein degradation via the ubiquitination ubiquitin–proteasome pathway, which is also demonstrated in xenograft mouse model. The study provides strong scientific evidence for the development of the combination of WNT974 and ART as KRAS-targeting therapeutics for CRC treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34
JournalCell Communication and Signaling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

User-Defined Keywords

  • Artesunate
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Combination treatment
  • KRAS
  • Protein degradation
  • WNT974


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