Ding X, et al. Theranostics 2020.
Rationale: Resistance to pemetrexed (PEM)-based chemotherapy is a major cause of progression in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. The deubiquitinating enzyme UCHL1 was recently found to play important roles in chemoresistance and tumor progression. However, the potential roles and mechanisms of UCHL1 in PEM resistance remain unclear. Methods: Bioinformatics analyses and immunohistochemistry were used to evaluate UCHL1 expression in NSCLC specimens. Kaplan-Meier analysis with the log-rank test was used for survival analyses. We established PEM-resistant NSCLC cell lines by exposing them to step-wise increases in PEM concentrations, and in vitro and in vivo assays were used to explore the roles and mechanisms of UCHL1 in PEM resistance using the NSCLC cells. Results: In chemoresistant tumors from NSCLC patients, UCHL1 was highly expressed and elevated UCHL1 expression was strongly associated with poor outcomes. Furthermore, UCHL1 expression was significantly upregulated in PEM-resistant NSCLC cells, while genetic silencing or inhibiting UCHL1 suppressed resistance to PEM and other drugs in NSCLC cells. Mechanistically, UCHL1 promoted PEM resistance in NSCLC by upregulating the expression of thymidylate synthase (TS), based on reduced TS expression after UCHL1 inhibition and re-emergence of PEM resistance upon TS restoration. Furthermore, UCHL1 upregulated TS expression, which mitigated PEM-induced DNA damage and cell cycle arrest in NSCLC cells, and also conferred resistance to PEM and other drugs. Conclusions: It appears that UCHL1 promotes PEM resistance by upregulating TS in NSCLC cells, which mitigated DNA damage and cell cycle arrest. Thus, UCHL1 may be a therapeutic target for overcoming PEM resistance in NSCLC patients.