Quiescin sulfhydryl oxidase 1 (QSOX1) is a highly conserved disulfide bond-generating enzyme that represents the ancient fusion of two major thiol-disulfide oxidoreductase gene families: thioredoxin and ERV. QSOX1 was first linked with cancer after being identified as overexpressed in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (but not in adjacent normal ductal epithelia, infiltrating lymphocytes, or chronic pancreatitis). QSOX1 overexpression has been confirmed in a number of other histological tumor types, such as breast, lung, kidney, prostate, and others. Expression of QSOX1 supports a proliferative and invasive phenotype in tumor cells, and its enzymatic activity is critical for promoting an invasive phenotype. An in vivo tumor growth study utilizing the pancreatic tumor cell line MIAPaCa-2 containing a QSOX1-silencing shRNA construct revealed that QSOX1 expression supports a proliferative phenotype. These preliminary studies suggest that suppressing the enzymatic activity of QSOX1 could represent a novel therapeutic strategy to inhibit proliferation and invasion of malignant neoplasms.
The goal of this research was to identify and characterize biologically active small molecule inhibitors for QSOX1. Chemical inhibition of QSOX1 enzymatic activity was hypothesized to reduce growth and invasion of tumor cells. Recombinant QSOX1 was screened against libraries of small molecules using an enzymatic activity assay to identify potential QSOX1 inhibitors. Two lead QSOX1 inhibitors were confirmed, 2-phenyl-1, 2-benzisoselenazol-3-one (ebselen), and 3-methoxy-n-[4-(1 pyrrolidinyl)phenyl]benzamide. The biological activity of these compounds is consistent with QSOX1 knockdown in tumor cell lines, reducing growth and invasion in vitro. Treatment of tumor cells with these compounds also resulted in specific ECM defects, a phenotype associated with QSOX1 knockdown. Additionally, these compounds were shown to be active in pancreatic and renal cancer xenografts, reducing tumor growth with daily treatment. For ebselen, the molecular mechanism of inhibition was determined using a combination of biochemical and mass spectrometric techniques. The results obtained in these studies provide proof-of-principle that targeting QSOX1 enzymatic activity with chemical compounds represents a novel potential therapeutic avenue worthy of further investigation in cancer. Additionally, the utility of these small molecules as chemical probes will yield future insight into the general biology of QSOX1, including the identification of novel substrates of QSOX1.