Protein degradation pathways

Our research interest lies in understanding how pathogenic proteins can be eliminated from the cells and their components recycled. In particular our research focuses on oncogenic protein degradation in relation to biology of cancer.

Protein Degradation Pathways

There are two major fundamentally different mechanisms by which cells degrade proteins for turnover and recycling purposes: the lysosome and the proteasome. Our research uses a creative combination of pharmacological, biochemical and genetic approaches to rigorously investigate the biological significance of these degradation mechanisms in normal and cancer cells.

Hence, our aim is to understand the complexity of various degradation systems and its explicit interactions and mechanisms, that might provide a foundation for the development of diagnostic strategies and major conceptual advance to uncover novel therapeutic drug targets in malignancies as well as in other human disorders.

Current research projects

Ubiquitin-Proteasome System (UPS) in Cancer

The Ubiquitin-Proteasome System (UPS) involves the targeting of polyubiquitination proteins for recognition and processing by the 26S proteasome, a multicatalytic enzyme complex that degrades the proteins, and recycles ubiquitin. The ubiquitylation process is carried out by three classes of enzymes; E1 (activating enzyme), E2 (conjugating enzyme) and E3 (ubiquitin ligase), as well as DUB (deubiquitinating enzymes).

Many proteasome target proteins include a broad array of regulatory proteins that play important roles in cell cycle progression, cell development and differentiation, DNA damage responses, and tumorgenesis. In addition, aberrations in the components of the ubiquitin proteasome pathway are commonly observed in many cancers. We are interested in understanding the role of UPS in cancer and to investigate the possibility of targeting different steps the ubiquitin-proteasome system for cancer treatment.

Autophagy Pathways in Cancer

Proteins destined for lysosomal degradation can reach the lysosome by a variety of means and autophagy is one regulated pathway of lysosomal degradation in mammalian cells. There are three main processes of autophagy; of which we are focusing on is macroautophagy and chaperone-mediated autophagy CMA.

Autophagy in Cancer:

Activation of autophagy, as one regulated pathway of lysosomal degradation, confers stress resistance and sustains cancer cell survival under adverse conditions. Moreover, activation of autophagy has been implicated in mediating resistance to existing anticancer therapy. However, the role of autophagy in cancer is complex and our aim is to investigate the impact of manipulating autophagy pathways to understand the contribution of factors and signaling that might regulate tumorigenesis and chemoresistance.

Chaperone-mediated Autophagy (CMA) in Cancer:

In a mammalian cell, chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) is one of the types of autophagy that is specific to breakdown of protein. Beyond its selectivity for proteins, another unique feature of this type of autophagy is that proteins are directly transported into the lysosome for degradation during CMA. Depending on which proteins are degraded by this pathway, CMA can perform various physiological and pathological functions. To date the role of CMA in cancer cells has remained obscure and the physiological importance of CMA in cancer is currently not defined. Therefore, our research intends to investigate the CMA pathway in depths both at cellular and organismal level, in order to explore the intriguing possible role of CMA in various human cancers.

Group members

Davide Chiesi – Master student

Merve Kacal – PhD student

Helin Norberg – Research group leader

Tingting Yu – Lecture 


Tao Cui

Mathilda Eriksson

Kristin Uth

Adi Zheng

Selected publications

Targetome analysis of chaperone-mediated autophagy in cancer cells.
Hao Y, Kacal M, Ouchida AT, Zhang B, Norberg E, Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg H
Autophagy 2019 Sep;15(9):1558-1571

USP10 regulates the stability of the EMT-transcription factor Slug/SNAI2.
Ouchida AT, Kacal M, Zheng A, Ambroise G, Zhang B, Norberg E, et al
Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 2018 08;502(4):429-434

Resistant to Targeted Therapy - Aim for Metabolic Liabilities.
Queiroz AL, Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg H, Norberg E
Theranostics 2018 ;8(7):2061-2063

Effect of Mutant p53 Proteins on Glycolysis and Mitochondrial Metabolism.
Eriksson M, Ambroise G, Ouchida AT, Lima Queiroz A, Smith D, Gimenez-Cassina A, et al
Mol. Cell. Biol. 2017 Dec;37(24):

Characterization of the Role of the Malate Dehydrogenases to Lung Tumor Cell Survival.
Zhang B, Tornmalm J, Widengren J, Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg H, Norberg E
J Cancer 2017 ;8(11):2088-2096

PHGDH Defines a Metabolic Subtype in Lung Adenocarcinomas with Poor Prognosis.
Zhang B, Zheng A, Hydbring P, Ambroise G, Ouchida AT, Goiny M, et al
Cell Rep 2017 06;19(11):2289-2303

Activation of chaperone-mediated autophagy as a potential anticancer therapy.
Galan-Acosta L, Xia H, Yuan J, Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg H
Autophagy 2015 ;11(12):2370-1

Degradation of HK2 by chaperone-mediated autophagy promotes metabolic catastrophe and cell death.
Xia HG, Najafov A, Geng J, Galan-Acosta L, Han X, Guo Y, et al
J. Cell Biol. 2015 Aug;210(5):705-16

Activation of necroptosis in multiple sclerosis.
Ofengeim D, Ito Y, Najafov A, Zhang Y, Shan B, DeWitt JP, et al
Cell Rep 2015 Mar;10(11):1836-49

Pharmacologic agents targeting autophagy.
Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg H, Xia HG, Yuan J
J. Clin. Invest. 2015 Jan;125(1):5-13

Chaperone-mediated autophagy degrades mutant p53.
Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg H, Kim M, Xia HG, Iwanicki MP, Ofengeim D, Coloff JL, et al
Genes Dev. 2013 Aug;27(15):1718-30

Deubiquitination of NLRP3 by BRCC3 critically regulates inflammasome activity.
Py BF, Kim MS, Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg H, Yuan J
Mol. Cell 2013 Jan;49(2):331-8

Beclin1 controls the levels of p53 by regulating the deubiquitination activity of USP10 and USP13.
Liu J, Xia H, Kim M, Xu L, Li Y, Zhang L, et al
Cell 2011 Sep;147(1):223-34


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Helin Norberg

Principal Researcher
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