p62/SQSTM1-induced caspase-8 aggresomes are essential for ionizing radiation-mediated apoptosis

Su Hyun Lee, Won Jin Cho, Abdo J. Najy, Allen Dexter Saliganan, Tri Pham, Joseph Rakowski, Brian Loughery, Chang Hoon Ji, Wael Sakr, Seongho Kim, Ikuko Kato, Weon Kuu Chung, Harold E. Kim, Yong Tae Kwon, Hyeong Reh C. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The autophagy–lysosome pathway and apoptosis constitute vital determinants of cell fate and engage in a complex interplay in both physiological and pathological conditions. Central to this interplay is the archetypal autophagic cargo adaptor p62/SQSTM1/Sequestosome-1 which mediates both cell survival and endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced apoptosis via aggregation of ubiquitinated caspase-8. Here, we investigated the role of p62-mediated apoptosis in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), which can be divided into two groups based on human papillomavirus (HPV) infection status. We show that increased autophagic flux and defective apoptosis are associated with radioresistance in HPV(-) HNSCC, whereas HPV(+) HNSCC fail to induce autophagic flux and readily undergo apoptotic cell death upon radiation treatments. The degree of radioresistance and tumor progression of HPV(-) HNSCC respectively correlated with autophagic activity and cytosolic levels of p62. Pharmacological activation of the p62-ZZ domain using small molecule ligands sensitized radioresistant HPV(-) HNSCC cells to ionizing radiation by facilitating p62 self-polymerization and sequestration of cargoes leading to apoptosis. The self-polymerizing activity of p62 was identified as the essential mechanism by which ubiquitinated caspase-8 is sequestered into aggresome-like structures, without which irradiation fails to induce apoptosis in HNSCC. Our results suggest that harnessing p62-dependent sequestration of ubiquitinated caspase-8 provides a novel therapeutic avenue in patients with radioresistant tumors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number997
JournalCell Death and Disease
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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