A hypusine-eIF5A-PEAK1 switch regulates the pathogenesis of pancreatic cancer

Deregulation of protein synthesis is a hallmark of cancer cell proliferation, survival, and metastatic progression. eIF5A1 and its highly related isoform eIF5A2 are translation initiation factors that have been implicated in a range of human malignancies, but how they control cancer development and disease progression is still poorly understood. Here, we investigated how eIF5A proteins regulate pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) pathogenesis. eIF5A proteins are the only known proteins regulated by a distinct posttranslational modification termed hypusination, which is catalyzed by two enzymes, deoxyhypusine synthase (DHPS) and deoxyhypusine hydroxylase (DOHH). The highly selective nature of the hypusine modification and its amenability to pharmacologic inhibition make eIF5A proteins attractive therapeutic targets. We found that the expression and hypusination of eIF5A proteins are upregulated in human PDAC tissues and in premalignant pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia tissues isolated from Pdx-1-Cre: LSL-KRASG12D mice. Knockdown of eIF5A proteins in PDAC cells inhibited their growth in vitro and orthotopic tumor growth in vivo, whereas amplification of eIF5A proteins increased PDAC cell growth and tumor formation in mice. Small-molecule inhibitors of DHPS and DOHH both suppressed eIF5A hypusination, preventing PDAC cell growth. Interestingly, we found that eIF5A proteins regulate PDAC cell growth by modulating the expression of PEAK1, a nonreceptor tyrosine kinase essential for PDAC cell growth and therapy resistance. Our findings suggest that eIF5A proteins utilize PEAK1 as a downstream effector to drive PDAC pathogenesis and that pharmacologic inhibition of the eIF5A-hypusine-PEAK1 axis may provide a novel therapeutic strategy to combat this deadly disease.