Since its discovery nearly 40 years ago, many components of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) have been identified and characterized in detail. However, a key aspect of the UPS that remains largely obscure is the signals that initiate the interaction of a substrate with enzymes of the UPS machinery. Understanding these signals is of particular interest for studies that examine the mechanism of substrate recognition for proteins that have adopted a non-native structure, as part of the cellular protein quality control (PQC) defense mechanism. Such studies are quite salient as the entire proteome makes up the potential battery of PQC substrates, and yet only a limited number of ubiquitination pathways are known to handle misfolded proteins. Our current research aims at understanding how a small number of PQC ubiquitin-protein ligases specifically recognize and ubiquitinate the overwhelming assortment of misfolded proteins. Here, we present a new proteogenomicapproach for identifying and characterizing recognition motifs within degradation elements (degrons) in a high-throughput manner. The method utilizes yeast growth under restrictive conditions for selecting protein fragments that confer instability. The corresponding cDNA fragments are analyzed by next-generation sequencing (NGS) that provides information about each fragment's identity, reading frame, and abundance over time. This method was used by us to identify PQC-specific and compartment-specific degrons. It can readily be modified to study protein degradation signals and pathways in other organisms and in various settings, such as different strain backgrounds and under various cell conditions, all of which can be sequenced and analyzed simultaneously.
Since its discovery nearly 40 years ago, many components of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) have been identified and characterized in detail. However, a key aspect of the UPS that remains largely obscure is the signals that initiate the interaction of a substrate with enzymes of the UPS machinery. Understanding these signals is of particular interest for studies that examine the mechanism of substrate recognition for proteins that have adopted a non-native structure, as part of the cellular protein quality control (PQC) defense mechanism. Such studies are quite salient as the entire proteome makes up the potential battery of PQC substrates, and yet only a limited number of ubiquitination pathways are known to handle misfolded proteins. Our current research aims at understanding how a small number of PQC ubiquitin-protein ligases specifically recognize and ubiquitinate the overwhelming assortment of misfolded proteins. Here, we present a new proteogenomic approach for identifying and characterizing recognition motifs within degradation elements (degrons) in a high-throughput manner. The method utilizes yeast growth under restrictive conditions for selecting protein fragments that confer instability. The corresponding cDNA fragments are analyzed by next-generation sequencing (NGS) that provides information about each fragment’s identity, reading frame, and abundance over time. This method was used by us to identify PQC-specific and compartment-specific degrons. It can readily be modified to study protein degradation signals and pathways in other organisms and in various settings, such as different strain backgrounds and under various cell conditions, all of which can be sequenced and analyzed simultaneously.
In the current issue of Molecular Cell, Szoradi et al. (2018) present compelling data demonstrating how the newly identified SHRED pathway in yeast selectively shifts the E3 ligase Ubr1 specificity from N-end rule substrates to misfolded proteins in cells under proteostatic stress.
Nuclear proteins participate in diverse cellular processes, many of which are essential for cell survival and viability. To maintain optimal nuclear physiology, the cell employs the ubiquitin-proteasome system to eliminate damaged and misfolded proteins in the nucleus that could otherwise harm the cell. In this review, we highlight the current knowledge about the major ubiquitin-protein ligases involved in protein quality control degradation (PQCD) in the nucleus and how they orchestrate their functions to eliminate misfolded proteins in different nuclear subcompartments. Many human disorders are causally linked to protein misfolding in the nucleus, hence we discuss major concepts that still need to be clarified to better understand the basis of the nuclear misfolded proteins’ toxic effects. Additionally, we touch upon potential strategies for manipulating nuclear PQCD pathways to ameliorate diseases associated with protein misfolding and aggregation in the nucleus.
Cellular redox status affects diverse cellular functions, including proliferation, protein homeostasis, and aging. Thus, individual differences in redox status can give rise to distinct sub-populations even among cells with identical genetic backgrounds. Here, we have created a novel methodology to track redox status at single cell resolution using the redox-sensitive probe Grx1-roGFP2. Our method allows identification and sorting of sub-populations with different oxidation levels in either the cytosol, mitochondria or peroxisomes. Using this approach, we defined a redox-dependent heterogeneity of yeast cells and characterized growth, as well as proteomic and transcriptomic profiles of distinctive redox subpopulations. We report that, starting in late logarithmic growth, cells of the same age have a bi-modal distribution of oxidation status. A comparative proteomic analysis between these populations identified three key proteins, Hsp30, Dhh1, and Pnc1, which affect basal oxidation levels and may serve as first line of defense proteins in redox homeostasis.
SummaryThe ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) for protein degradation has been under intensive study, and yet, we have only partial understanding of mechanisms by which proteins are selected to be targeted for proteolysis. One of the obstacles in studying these recognition pathways is the limited repertoire of known degradation signals (degrons). To better understand what determines the susceptibility of intracellular proteins to degradation by the UPS, we developed an unbiased method for large-scale identification of eukaryotic degrons. Using a reporter-based high-throughput competition assay, followed by deep sequencing, we measured a degradation potency index for thousands of native polypeptides in a single experiment. We further used this method to identify protein quality control (PQC)-specific and compartment-specific degrons. Our method provides an unprecedented insight into the yeast degronome, and it can readily be modified to study protein degradation signals and pathways in other organisms and in various settings.
The Doa10 quality control ubiquitin (Ub) ligase labels proteins with uniform lysine 48-linked poly-Ub (K48-pUB) chains for proteasomal degradation. Processing of Doa10 substrates requires the activity of two Ub conjugating enzymes. Here we show that the non-canonical conjugating enzyme Ubc6 attaches single Ub molecules not only to lysines but also to hydroxylated amino acids. These Ub moieties serve as primers for subsequent poly-ubiquitylation by Ubc7. We propose that the evolutionary conserved propensity of Ubc6 to mount Ub on diverse amino acids augments the number of ubiquitylation sites within a substrate and thereby increases the target range of Doa10. Our work provides new insights on how the consecutive activity of two specialized conjugating enzymes facilitates the attachment of poly-Ub to very heterogeneous client molecules. Such stepwise ubiquitylation reactions most likely represent a more general cellular phenomenon that extends the versatility yet sustains the specificity of the Ub conjugation system.
Ndd1 activates the Mcm1-Fkh2 transcription factor to transcribe mitotic regulators. The anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome activated by Cdh1 (APC/C(Cdh1)) mediates the degradation of proteins throughout G1. Here we show that the APC/C(Cdh1) ubiquitinates Ndd1 and mediates its degradation, and that APC/C(Cdh1) activity suppresses accumulation of Ndd1 targets. We confirm putative Ndd1 targets and identify novel ones, many of them APC/C(Cdh1) substrates. The APC/C(Cdh1) thus regulates these proteins in a dual manner—both pretranscriptionally and post-translationally, forming a multi-layered feedforward loop (FFL). We predict by mathematical modelling and verify experimentally that this FFL introduces a lag between APC/C(Cdh1) inactivation at the end of G1 and accumulation of genes transcribed by Ndd1 in G2. This regulation generates two classes of APC/C(Cdh1) substrates, early ones that accumulate in S and late ones that accumulate in G2. Our results show how the dual state APC/C(Cdh1) activity is converted into multiple outputs by interactions between its substrates.
A significant portion of ubiquitin (Ub)-dependent cellular protein quality control takes place at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in a process termed "ER-associated degradation" (ERAD). Yeast ERAD employs two integral ER membrane E3 Ub ligases: Hrd1 (also termed "Der3") and Doa10, which recognize a distinct set of substrates. However, both E3s bind to and activate a common E2-conjugating enzyme, Ubc7. Here we describe a novel feature of the ERAD system that entails differential activation of Ubc7 by its cognate E3s. We found that residues within helix α2 of Ubc7 that interact with donor Ub were essential for polyUb conjugation. Mutagenesis of these residues inhibited the in vitro activity of Ubc7 by preventing the conjugation of donor Ub to the acceptor. Unexpectedly, Ub chain formation by mutant Ubc7 was restored selectively by the Hrd1 RING domain but not by the Doa10 RING domain. In agreement with the in vitro data, Ubc7 α2 helix mutations selectively impaired the in vivo degradation of Doa10 substrates but had no apparent effect on the degradation of Hrd1 substrates. To our knowledge, this is the first example of distinct activation requirements of a single E2 by two E3s. We propose a model in which the RING domain activates Ub transfer by stabilizing a transition state determined by noncovalent interactions between the α2 helix of Ubc7 and Ub and that this transition state may be stabilized further by some E3 ligases, such as Hrd1, through additional interactions outside the RING domain.
Molecular chaperones were originally discovered as heat shock-induced proteins that facilitate proper folding of proteins with non-native conformations. While the function of chaperones in protein folding has been well documented over the last four decades, more recent studies have shown that chaperones are also necessary for the clearance of terminally misfolded proteins by the Ub-proteasome system. In this capacity, chaperones protect misfolded degradation substrates from spontaneous aggregation, facilitate their recognition by the Ub ligation machinery and finally shuttle the ubiquitylated substrates to the proteasome. The physiological importance of these functions is manifested by inefficient proteasomal degradation and the accumulation of protein aggregates during ageing or in certain neurodegenerative diseases, when chaperone levels decline. In this review, we focus on the diverse roles of stress-induced chaperones in targeting misfolded proteins to the proteasome and the consequences of their compromised activity. We further discuss the implications of these findings to the identification of new therapeutic targets for the treatment of amyloid diseases.
Genomic instability, a hallmark of cancer, is commonly caused by failures in the DNA damage response. Here we conducted a bioinformatical screen to reveal DNA damage response genes that are upregulated by estrogen and highly mutated in breast and ovarian cancers. This screen identified 53 estrogen-dependent cancer genes, some of which are novel. Notably, the screen retrieved 9 DNA helicases as well as 5 nucleases. DNA2, which functions as both a helicase and a nuclease and plays a role in DNA repair and replication, was retrieved in the screen. Mutations in DNA2, found in estrogen-dependent cancers, are clustered in the helicase and nuclease domains, suggesting activity impairment. Indeed, we show that mutations found in ovarian cancers impair DNA2 activity. Depletion of DNA2 in cells reduces their tumorogenicity in mice. In human, high expression of DNA2 correlates with poor survival of estrogen receptor-positive patients but not of estrogen receptor-negative patients. We also demonstrate that depletion of DNA2 in cells reduces proliferation, while addition of estrogen restores proliferation. These findings suggest that cells responding to estrogen will proliferate despite impaired in DNA2 activity, potentially promoting genomic instability and triggering cancer development.
The sequestration of misfolded proteins into aggregates is an integral pathway of the protein quality control network that becomes particularly prominent during proteotoxic stress and in various pathologies. Methods for systematic analysis of cellular aggregate content are still largely limited to fluorescence microscopy and to separation by biochemical techniques. Here, we describe an alternative approach, using flow cytometric analysis, applied to protein aggregates released from their intracellular milieu by mild lysis of yeast cells. Protein aggregates were induced in yeast by heat shock or by chaperone deprivation and labeled using GFP- or mCherry-tagged quality control substrate proteins and chaperones. The fluorescence-labeled aggregate particles were distinguishable from cell debris by flow cytometry. The assay was used to quantify the number of fluorescent aggregates per μg of cell lysate protein and for monitoring changes in the cellular content and properties of aggregates, induced by stress. The results were normalized to the frequencies of fluorescent reporter expression in the cell population, allowing quantitative comparison. The assay also provided a quantitative measure of co-localization of aggregate components, such as chaperones and quality control substrates, within the same aggregate particle. This approach may be extended by fluorescence-activated sorting and isolation of various protein aggregates, including those harboring proteins associated with conformation disorders.
Protein degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is a major regulatory mechanism for protein homeostasis in all eukaryotes. The standard approach to determining intracellular protein degradation relies on biochemical assays for following the kinetics of protein decline. Such methods are often laborious and time consuming and therefore not amenable to experiments aimed at assessing multiple substrates and degradation conditions. As an alternative, cell growth-based assays have been developed, that are, in their conventional format, end-point assays that cannot quantitatively determine relative changes in protein levels. Here we describe a method that faithfully determines changes in protein degradation rates by coupling them to yeast cell-growth kinetics. The method is based on an established selection system where uracil auxotrophy of URA3-deleted yeast cells is rescued by an exogenously expressed reporter protein, comprised of a fusion between the essential URA3 gene and a degradation determinant (degron). The reporter protein is designed so that its synthesis rate is constant whilst its degradation rate is determined by the degron. As cell growth in uracil-deficient medium is proportional to the relative levels of Ura3, growth kinetics are entirely dependent on the reporter protein degradation. This method accurately measures changes in intracellular protein degradation kinetics. It was applied to: (a) Assessing the relative contribution of known ubiquitin-conjugating factors to proteolysis (b) E2 conjugating enzyme structure-function analyses (c) Identification and characterization of novel degrons. Application of the degron-URA3-based system transcends the protein degradation field, as it can also be adapted to monitoring changes of protein levels associated with functions of other cellular pathways.
Protein elimination by the ubiquitin-proteasome system requires the presence of a cis-acting degradation signal. Efforts to discern degradation signals of misfolded proteasome substrates thus far revealed a general mechanism whereby the exposure of cryptic hydrophobic motifs provides a degradation determinant. We have previously characterized such a determinant, employing the yeast kinetochore protein Ndc10 as a model substrate. Ndc10 is essentially a stable protein that is rapidly degraded upon exposure of a hydrophobic motif located at the C-terminal region. The degradation motif comprises two distinct and essential elements: DegA, encompassing two amphipathic helices, and DegB, a hydrophobic sequence within the loosely structured C-terminal tail of Ndc10. Here we show that the hydrophobic nature of DegB is irrelevant for the ubiquitylation of substrates containing the Ndc10 degradation motif, but is essential for proteasomal degradation. Mutant DegB, in which the hydrophobic sequence was disrupted, acted as a dominant degradation inhibitory element when expressed at the C-terminal regions of ubiquitin-dependent and -independent substrates of the 26S proteasome. This mutant stabilized substrates in both yeast and mammalian cells, indicative of a modular recognition moiety. The dominant function of the mutant DegB provides a powerful experimental tool for evaluating the physiological implications of stabilization of specific proteasome substrates in intact cells and for studying the associated pathological effects.
Ubiquitin accumulation in amyloid plaques is a pathological marker observed in the vast majority of neurodegenerative diseases, yet ubiquitin function in these inclusions is controversial. It has been suggested that ubiquitylated proteins are directed to inclusion bodies under stress conditions, when both chaperone-mediated refolding and proteasomal degradation are compromised or overwhelmed. Alternatively, ubiquitin and chaperones may be recruited to preformed inclusions to promote their elimination. We address this issue using a yeast model system, based on expression of several mildly misfolded degradation substrates in cells with altered chaperone content. We find that the heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) chaperone pair Ssa1/Ssa2 and the Hsp40 cochaperone Sis1 are essential for degradation. Substrate ubiquitylation is strictly dependent on Sis1, whereas Ssa1 and Ssa2 are dispensable. Remarkably, in Ssa1/Ssa2-depleted cells, ubiquitylated substrates are sequestered into detergent-insoluble, Hsp42-positive inclusion bodies. Unexpectedly, sequestration is abolished by preventing substrate ubiquitylation. We conclude that Hsp40 is required for the targeting of misfolded proteins to the ubiquitylation machinery, whereas the decision to degrade or sequester ubiquitylated proteins is mediated by the Hsp70s. Accordingly, diminished Hsp70 levels, as observed in aging or certain pathological conditions, might be sufficient to trigger ubiquitin-dependent sequestration of partially misfolded proteins into inclusion bodies.
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress develops when the ER is overloaded with too many proteins to fold. This elicits a signaling pathway called the unfolded protein response. The unfolded protein response is physiologically required for the terminal development of B cells into antibody-secreting plasma cells. Ring Box Protein 1 (RBX1) is a 14-kDa protein necessary for ubiquitin ligation activity of the multimeric cullin ring ubiquitin ligases (CRLs). As RBX1 is shared by a large number of CRLs, alterations in its activity may lead to global changes in protein stability. We discovered that RBX1 is cleaved in the course of LPS-induced plasma cell differentiation and in multiple myeloma cell lines upon induction of pharmacological ER stress. The cleavage is executed by several caspase proteases that cleave RBX1 eight amino acids from the N terminus. To address the possible implication of RBX1 cleavage for CRL activity, we replaced the endogenous RBX1 homolog of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Roc1, with the wild type or the N-terminal Δ8 mutant human RBX1. We show that yeast expressing the cleaved RBX1 are hypersensitive to ER stress and are impaired in CRL-mediated ubiquitination and degradation. We propose a model by which N-terminal cleavage of RBX1 impairs its activity and promotes susceptibility to ER stress induction.
Crystallographic studies have offered understanding of how receptor tyrosine kinases from the ErbB family are regulated by their growth factor ligands. A conformational change of the EGFR (ErbB1) was shown to occur upon ligand binding, where a solely ligand-mediated mode of dimerization/activation was documented. However, this dogma of dimerization/activation was revolutionized by the discovery of constitutively active ligand-independent EGFR mutants. In addition, other ligand-independent activation mechanisms may occur. We have shown that oxidative stress (ox-stress), induced by hydrogen peroxide or cigarette smoke, activates EGFR differently than its ligand, EGF, thereby inducing aberrant phosphorylation and impaired trafficking and degradation of EGFR. Here we demonstrate that ox-stress activation of EGFR is ligand-independent, does not induce "classical" receptor dimerization and is not inhibited by the tyrosine kinase inhibitor AG1478. Thus, an unprecedented, apparently activated, state is found for EGFR under ox-stress. Furthermore, this activation mechanism is temperature-dependent, suggesting the simultaneous involvement of membrane structure. We propose that ceramide increase under ox-stress disrupts cholesterol-enriched rafts leading to EGFR re-localization into the rigid, ceramide-enriched rafts. This increase in ceramide also supports EGFR aberrant trafficking to a peri-nuclear region. Therefore, the EGFR unprecedented and activated conformation could be sustained by simultaneous alterations in membrane structure under ox-stress.
Proper functioning of the protein-folding quality control network depends on the network's ability to discern diverse structural perturbations to the native states of its protein substrates. Despite the centrality of the detection of misfolded states to cell home-ostasis, very little is known about the exact sequence and structural features that mark a protein as being misfolded. To investigate these features, we studied the requirements for the degradation of the yeast kinetochore protein Ndc10p. Mutant Ndc10p is a substrate of a protein-folding quality control pathway mediated by the E3 ubiquitin (Ub) ligase Doa10p at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)/nuclear envelope membrane. Analysis of Ndc10p mutant derivatives, employing a reverse genetics approach, identified an autonomous quality control-associated degradation motif near the C-terminus of the protein. This motif is composed of two indispensable hydrophobic elements: a hydrophobic surface of an amphipathic helix and a loosely structured hydrophobic C-terminal tail. Site-specific point mutations expose these elements, triggering ubiquitin-mediated and HSP70 chaperone-dependent degradation of Ndc10p. These findings substantiate the ability of the ER quality control system to recognize subtle perturbation(s) in the native structure of a nuclear protein.
The ubiquitin-proteasome system degrades an enormous variety of proteins that contain specific degradation signals, or 'degrons'. Besides the degradation of regulatory proteins, almost every protein suffers from sporadic biosynthetic errors or misfolding. Such aberrant proteins can be recognized and rapidly degraded by cells. Structural and functional data on a handful of degrons allow several generalizations regarding their mechanism of action. We focus on different strategies of degron recognition by the ubiquitin system, and contrast regulatory degrons that are subject to signalling-dependent modification with those that are controlled by protein folding or assembly, as frequently occurs during protein quality control.
Our studies with the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae have uncovered a number of general principles governing substrate selectivity and proteolysis by the ubiquitin-proteasome system. The initial work focused on the degradation of a transcription factor, the MATalpha2 repressor, but the pathways uncovered have a much broader range of targets. At least two distinct ubiquitination mechanisms contribute to alpha2 turnover. One of them depends on a large integral membrane ubiquitin ligase (E3) and a pair of ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes (E2s). The transmembrane E3 and E2 proteins must travel from their site of synthesis in the ER to the inner nuclear membrane in order to reach nuclear substrates such as alpha2. The 26S proteasome is responsible for alpha2 degradation, and several important features of proteasome assembly and active site formation were uncovered. Most recently, we have delineated major steps in 20S proteasome assembly and have also identified several novel 20S proteasome assembly factors. Surprisingly, alterations in 20S proteasome assembly lead to defects in the assembly of the proteasome regulatory particle (RP). The RP associates with the 20S proteasome to form the 26S proteasome. Our data suggest that the 20S proteasome can function as an assembly factor for the RP, which would make it the first such factor for RP assembly identified to date.