Theranostics 2020; 10(8):3708-3721. doi:10.7150/thno.41677

Research Paper

A cell-permeable peptide-based PROTAC against the oncoprotein CREPT proficiently inhibits pancreatic cancer

Danhui Ma1, Yutian Zou1,2, Yunxiang Chu3, Zhengsheng Liu4, Gaochao Liu5, Jun Chu1, Mengdi Li1, Jiayu Wang1, Shi-yong Sun6✉, Zhijie Chang1✉

1. State Key Laboratory of Membrane Biology, School of Medicine, National Engineering Laboratory for Anti-tumor Therapeutics, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China.
2. College of Letters and Science, University of California, Berkeley, 101 Durant Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720.
3. Department of Gastroenterology, Emergency General Hospital, Beijing 100028, China.
4. School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China.
5. MOE Key Laboratory of Protein Sciences, Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Structural Biology, Tsinghua-Peking Joint Center for Life Sciences, School of Life Sciences and School of Medicine, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 100084 China.
6. Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, School of Medicine and Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Ma D, Zou Y, Chu Y, Liu Z, Liu G, Chu J, Li M, Wang J, Sun Sy, Chang Z. A cell-permeable peptide-based PROTAC against the oncoprotein CREPT proficiently inhibits pancreatic cancer. Theranostics 2020; 10(8):3708-3721. doi:10.7150/thno.41677. Available from

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Cancers remain a threat to human health due to the lack of effective therapeutic strategies. Great effort has been devoted to the discovery of drug targets to treat cancers, but novel oncoproteins still need to be unveiled for efficient therapy.

Methods: We show that CREPT is highly expressed in pancreatic cancer and is associated with poor disease-free survival. CREPT overexpression promotes but CREPT deletion blocks colony formation and proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells. To provide a proof of concept for CREPT as a new target for the inhibition of pancreatic cancer, we designed a cell-permeable peptide-based proteolysis targeting chimera (PROTAC), named PRTC, based on the homodimerized leucine-zipper-like motif in the C-terminus domain of CREPT to induce its degradation in vivo.

Results: PRTC has high affinity for CREPT, with Kd = 0.34 +/- 0.11 μM and is able to permeate into cells because of the attached membrane-transportable peptide RRRRK. PRTC effectively induces CREPT degradation in a proteasome-dependent manner. Intriguingly, PRTC inhibits colony formation, cell proliferation, and motility in pancreatic cancer cells and ultimately impairs xenograft tumor growth, comparable to the effect of CREPT deletion.

Conclusions: PRTC-induced degradation of CREPT leads to inhibition of tumor growth, which is promising for the development of new drugs against pancreatic cancer. In addition, using an interacting motif based on the dimerized structure of proteins may be a new way to design a PROTAC aiming at degrading any protein without known interacting small molecules or peptides.

Keywords: PROTAC, CREPT, pancreatic cancer, degradation, drug target