Targeting the WASF3-CYFIP1 complex using stapled peptides suppresses cancer cell invasion

Yong Teng, Abdulaziz Bahassan, Dayong Dong, Laura E. Hanold, Xiaoou Ren, Eileen J. Kennedy, John K. Cowell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Activation of the WASF3 protein by extracellular stimuli promotes actin cytoskeleton reorganization and facilitates cancer cell invasion, whereasWASF3 depletion suppresses invasion and metastasis. In quiescent cells, the interaction between WASF3 and a complex of proteins, including CYFIP1, acts as a conformational restraint to prevent WASF3 activation. Therefore, we took advantage of this endogenous regulatory mechanism to investigate potential sites that disrupt WASF3 function. Here, we show that genetic knockdown of CYFIP1 in cancer cells led to the destabilization of the WASF3 complex, loss of WASF3 function, and suppressed invasion. Based on existing crystallographic data, we developed stapled peptides, referred to as WASF Helix Mimics (WAHM), that target an a-helical interface between WASF3 and CYFIP1. Treatment of highly invasive breast and prostate cancer cells with WAHM inhibitor peptides significantly reduced motility and invasion in vitro. Mechanistic investigations revealed that these inhibitors suppressed the interaction between Rac and the WASF3 complex, which has been shown to promote cell migration. Furthermore, peptide-mediated inhibition of WASF3 also resulted in the dysregulation of known downstream targets such as MMP-9 and KISS1. Finally, we demonstrate that this invasive phenotype is specific to WASF3 as depletion of WASF1 and WASF2, which can also bind to CYFIP1, did not affect invasion. Collectively, our findings suggest that targeting WASF3 function with WAHM peptides could represent a promising therapeutic strategy for preventing tumor invasion and metastasis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-973
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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