Imatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that is widely used to combat gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs). However, secondary resistance to imatinib is an important challenge in GIST treatment. Recent studies have demonstrated that cancer-derived nanosized exosomes play a key role in intercellular communication, but little is known about the roles of exosomes in imatinib-resistant GISTs. Here, we reveal that exosomes released from imatinib-resistant GISTs transmit drug resistance to imatinib-sensitive tumours. By using iTRAQ technology, we demonstrate that Ras-related protein Rab-35 (Rab35) is upregulated differentially in imatinib-resistant GISTs. Loss of Rab35 decreases exosome secretion, thereby hampering the transmission of imatinib resistance to sensitive tumours. Mechanistically, we showed that the ubiquitin‒proteasome system is involved in elevated Rab35 expression and that ubiquitin-specific protease 32 (USP32), a deubiquitylating enzyme, is bound to Rab35. Further experiments demonstrate that this protease protects Rab35 from proteasomal degradation by reducing Lys48 (K48)-ubiquitination. Additionally, we found that the transcription factor ETV1, which is a lineage survival factor in GISTs, promotes USP32 expression. Collectively, our results reveal that exosomes transmit imatinib resistance in GISTs and that deubiquitylation plays a key role in regulating the transmission process. The USP32-Rab35 axis provides a potential target for interventions to reduce the occurrence of imatinib resistance in GISTs.
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This work was supported by grants from National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number: 82072708); Youth Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number: 81902461); Natural Science Foundation of Province (grant number: BK20191495, BK20191073); The Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions (grant number: PAPD, JX10231801); Jiangsu Key Medical Discipline (General Surgery) (grant number: ZDXKA2016005).
The authors declare no competing interests.
The collection of specimens and animal handling for the study have been reviewed and approved by the Ethics Committee of the First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University.
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Li, C., Gao, Z., Cui, Z. et al. Deubiquitylation of Rab35 by USP32 promotes the transmission of imatinib resistance by enhancing exosome secretion in gastrointestinal stromal tumours. Oncogene 42, 894–910 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41388-023-02600-1