Posts Tagged ‘Ubiquitin’

Lesson 9 Cell Signaling:  Curations and Articles of reference as supplemental information for lecture section on WNTs: #TUBiol3373

Stephen J. Wiilliams, Ph.D: Curator

UPDATED 4/23/2019

This has an updated lesson on WNT signaling.  Please click on the following and look at the slides labeled under lesson 10

cell motility 9b lesson_2018_sjw

Remember our lessons on the importance of signal termination.  The CANONICAL WNT signaling (that is the β-catenin dependent signaling)

is terminated by the APC-driven degradation complex.  This leads to the signal messenger  β-catenin being degraded by the proteosome.  Other examples of growth factor signaling that is terminated by a proteosome-directed include the Hedgehog signaling system, which is involved in growth and differentiation as well as WNTs and is implicated in various cancers.

A good article on the Hedgehog signaling pathway is found here:

The Voice of a Pathologist, Cancer Expert: Scientific Interpretation of Images: Cancer Signaling Pathways and Tumor Progression

All images in use for this article are under copyrights with

Cancer is expressed through a series of transformations equally involving metabolic enzymes and glucose, fat, and protein metabolism, and gene transcription, as a result of altered gene regulatory and transcription pathways, and also as a result of changes in cell-cell interactions.  These are embodied in the following series of graphics.

Figure 1: Sonic_hedgehog_pathwaySonic_hedgehog_pathway

The Voice of Dr. Larry

The figure shows a modification of nuclear translocation by Sonic hedgehog pathway. The hedgehog proteins have since been implicated in the development of internal organs, midline neurological structures, and the hematopoietic system in humans. The Hh signaling pathway consists of three main components: the receptor patched 1 (PTCH1), the seven transmembrane G-protein coupled receptor smoothened (SMO), and the intracellular glioma-associated oncogene homolog (GLI) family of transcription factors.5The GLI family is composed of three members, including GLI1 (gene activating), GLI2 (gene activating and repressive), and GLI3 (gene repressive).6 In the absence of an activating signal from either Shh, Ihh or Dhh, PTCH1 exerts an inhibitory effect on the signal transducer SMO, preventing any downstream signaling from occurring.7 When Hh ligands bind and activate PTCH1, the inhibition on SMO is released, allowing the translocation of SMO into the cytoplasm and its subsequent activation of the GLI family of transcription factors.


And from the review of  Elaine Y. C. HsiaYirui Gui, and Xiaoyan Zheng   Regulation of Hedgehog Signaling by Ubiquitination  Front Biol (Beijing). 2015 Jun; 10(3): 203–220.

the authors state:

Finally, termination of Hh signaling is also important for controlling the duration of pathway activity. Hh induced ubiquitination and degradation of Ci/Gli is the most well-established mechanism for limiting signal duration, and inhibiting this process can lead to cell patterning disruption and excessive cell proliferation (). In addition to Ci/Gli, a growing body of evidence suggests that ubiquitination also plays critical roles in regulating other Hh signaling components including Ptc, Smo, and Sufu. Thus, ubiquitination serves as a general mechanism in the dynamic regulation of the Hh pathway.

Overview of Hedgehog signaling showing the signal termination by ubiquitnation and subsequent degradation of the Gli transcriptional factors. obtained from Oncotarget 5(10):2881-911 · May 2014. GSK-3B as a Therapeutic Intervention in Cancer


















Note that in absence of Hedgehog ligands Ptch inhibits Smo accumulation and activation but upon binding of Hedgehog ligands (by an autocrine or paracrine fashion) Ptch is now unable to inhibit Smo (evidence exists that Ptch is now targeted for degradation) and Smo can now inhibit Sufu-dependent and GSK-3B dependent induced degradation of Gli factors Gli1 and Gli2.  Also note the Gli1 and Gli2 are transcriptional activators while Gli3 is a transcriptional repressor.

UPDATED 4/16/2019

Please click on the following links for the Powerpoint presentation for lesson 9.  In addition click on the mp4 links to download the movies so you can view them in Powerpoint slide 22:

cell motility 9 lesson_SJW 2019

movie file 1:

Tumorigenic but noninvasive MCF-7 cells motility on an extracellular matrix derived from normal (3DCntrol) or tumor associated (TA) fibroblasts.  Note that TA ECM is “soft” and not organized and tumor cells appear to move randomly if  much at all.

Movie 2:


Note that these tumorigenic and invasive MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells move in organized patterns on organized ECM derived from Tumor Associated (TA) fibroblasts than from the ‘soft’ or unorganized ECM derived from normal  (3DCntrl) fibroblasts


The following contain curations of scientific articles from the site  intended as additional reference material  to supplement material presented in the lecture.

Wnts are a family of lipid-modified secreted glycoproteins which are involved in:

Normal physiological processes including

A. Development:

– Osteogenesis and adipogenesis (Loss of wnt/β‐catenin signaling causes cell fate shift of preosteoblasts from osteoblasts to adipocytes)

  – embryogenesis including body axis patterning, cell fate specification, cell proliferation and cell migration

B. tissue regeneration in adult tissue

read: Wnt signaling in the intestinal epithelium: from endoderm to cancer

And in pathologic processes such as oncogenesis (refer to Wnt/β-catenin Signaling [7.10]) and to your Powerpoint presentation


The curation Wnt/β-catenin Signaling is a comprehensive review of canonical and noncanonical Wnt signaling pathways


To review:












Activating the canonical Wnt pathway frees B-catenin from the degradation complex, resulting in B-catenin translocating to the nucleus and resultant transcription of B-catenin/TCF/LEF target genes.

Fig. 1 Canonical Wnt/FZD signaling pathway. (A) In the absence of Wnt signaling, soluble β-catenin is phosphorylated by a degradation complex consisting of the kinases GSK3β and CK1α and the scaffolding proteins APC and Axin1. Phosphorylated β-catenin is targeted for proteasomal degradation after ubiquitination by the SCF protein complex. In the nucleus and in the absence of β-catenin, TCF/LEF transcription factor activity is repressed by TLE-1; (B) activation of the canonical Wnt/FZD signaling leads to phosphorylation of Dvl/Dsh, which in turn recruits Axin1 and GSK3β adjacent to the plasma membrane, thus preventing the formation of the degradation complex. As a result, β-catenin accumulates in the cytoplasm and translocates into the nucleus, where it promotes the expression of target genes via interaction with TCF/LEF transcription factors and other proteins such as CBP, Bcl9, and Pygo.

NOTE: In the canonical signaling, the Wnt signal is transmitted via the Frizzled/LRP5/6 activated receptor to INACTIVATE the degradation complex thus allowing free B-catenin to act as the ultimate transducer of the signal.

Remember, as we discussed, the most frequent cancer-related mutations of WNT pathway constituents is in APC.

This shows how important the degradation complex is in controlling canonical WNT signaling.

Other cell signaling systems are controlled by protein degradation:

A.  The Forkhead family of transcription factors

Read: Regulation of FoxO protein stability via ubiquitination and proteasome degradation

B. Tumor necrosis factor α/NF κB signaling

Read: NF-κB, the first quarter-century: remarkable progress and outstanding questions

1.            Question: In cell involving G-proteins, the signal can be terminated by desensitization mechanisms.  How is both the canonical and noncanonical Wnt signal eventually terminated/desensitized?

We also discussed the noncanonical Wnt signaling pathway (independent of B-catenin induced transcriptional activity).  Note that the canonical and noncanonical involve different transducers of the signal.

Noncanonical WNT Signaling

Note: In noncanonical signaling the transducer is a G-protein and second messenger system is IP3/DAG/Ca++ and/or kinases such as MAPK, JNK.

Depending on the different combinations of WNT ligands and the receptors, WNT signaling activates several different intracellular pathways  (i.e. canonical versus noncanonical)


In addition different Wnt ligands are expressed at different times (temporally) and different cell types in development and in the process of oncogenesis. 

The following paper on Wnt signaling in ovarian oncogenesis shows how certain Wnt ligands are expressed in normal epithelial cells but the Wnt expression pattern changes upon transformation and ovarian oncogenesis. In addition, differential expression of canonical versus noncanonical WNT ligands occur during the process of oncogenesis (for example below the authors describe the noncanonical WNT5a is expressed in normal ovarian  epithelia yet WNT5a expression in ovarian cancer is lower than the underlying normal epithelium. However the canonical WNT10a, overexpressed in ovarian cancer cells, serves as an oncogene, promoting oncogenesis and tumor growth.

Wnt5a Suppresses Epithelial Ovarian Cancer by Promoting Cellular Senescence

Benjamin G. Bitler,1 Jasmine P. Nicodemus,1 Hua Li,1 Qi Cai,2 Hong Wu,3 Xiang Hua,4 Tianyu Li,5 Michael J. Birrer,6Andrew K. Godwin,7 Paul Cairns,8 and Rugang Zhang1,*

A.           Abstract

Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) remains the most lethal gynecological malignancy in the US. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop novel therapeutics for this disease. Cellular senescence is an important tumor suppression mechanism that has recently been suggested as a novel mechanism to target for developing cancer therapeutics. Wnt5a is a non-canonical Wnt ligand that plays a context-dependent role in human cancers. Here, we investigate the role of Wnt5a in regulating senescence of EOC cells. We demonstrate that Wnt5a is expressed at significantly lower levels in human EOC cell lines and in primary human EOCs (n = 130) compared with either normal ovarian surface epithelium (n = 31; p = 0.039) or fallopian tube epithelium (n = 28; p < 0.001). Notably, a lower level of Wnt5a expression correlates with tumor stage (p = 0.003) and predicts shorter overall survival in EOC patients (p = 0.003). Significantly, restoration of Wnt5a expression inhibits the proliferation of human EOC cells both in vitro and in vivo in an orthotopic EOC mouse model. Mechanistically, Wnt5a antagonizes canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling and induces cellular senescence by activating the histone repressor A (HIRA)/promyelocytic leukemia (PML) senescence pathway. In summary, we show that loss of Wnt5a predicts poor outcome in EOC patients and Wnt5a suppresses the growth of EOC cells by triggering cellular senescence. We suggest that strategies to drive senescence in EOC cells by reconstituting Wnt5a signaling may offer an effective new strategy for EOC therapy.

Oncol Lett. 2017 Dec;14(6):6611-6617. doi: 10.3892/ol.2017.7062. Epub 2017 Sep 26.

Clinical significance and biological role of Wnt10a in ovarian cancer. 

Li P1Liu W1Xu Q1Wang C1.

Ovarian cancer is one of the five most malignant types of cancer in females, and the only currently effective therapy is surgical resection combined with chemotherapy. Wnt family member 10A (Wnt10a) has previously been identified to serve an oncogenic function in several tumor types, and was revealed to have clinical significance in renal cell carcinoma; however, there is still only limited information regarding the function of Wnt10a in the carcinogenesis of ovarian cancer. The present study identified increased expression levels of Wnt10a in two cell lines, SKOV3 and A2780, using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Functional analysis indicated that the viability rate and migratory ability of SKOV3 cells was significantly inhibited following Wnt10a knockdown using short interfering RNA (siRNA) technology. The viability rate of SKOV3 cells decreased by ~60% compared with the control and the migratory ability was only ~30% of that in the control. Furthermore, the expression levels of β-catenin, transcription factor 4, lymphoid enhancer binding factor 1 and cyclin D1 were significantly downregulated in SKOV3 cells treated with Wnt10a-siRNA3 or LGK-974, a specific inhibitor of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway. However, there were no synergistic effects observed between Wnt10a siRNA3 and LGK-974, which indicated that Wnt10a activated the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway in SKOV3 cells. In addition, using quantitative PCR, Wnt10a was overexpressed in the tumor tissue samples obtained from 86 patients with ovarian cancer when compared with matching paratumoral tissues. Clinicopathological association analysis revealed that Wnt10a was significantly associated with high-grade (grade III, P=0.031) and late-stage (T4, P=0.008) ovarian cancer. Furthermore, the estimated 5-year survival rate was 18.4% for patients with low Wnt10a expression levels (n=38), whereas for patients with high Wnt10a expression (n=48) the rate was 6.3%. The results of the present study suggested that Wnt10a serves an oncogenic role during the carcinogenesis and progression of ovarian cancer via the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway.

Targeting the Wnt Pathway includes curations of articles related to the clinical development of Wnt signaling inhibitors as a therapeutic target in various cancers including hepatocellular carcinoma, colon, breast and potentially ovarian cancer.


2.         Question: Given that different Wnt ligands and receptors activate different signaling pathways, AND  WNT ligands  can be deferentially and temporally expressed  in various tumor types and the process of oncogenesis, how would you approach a personalized therapy targeting the WNT signaling pathway?

3.         Question: What are the potential mechanisms of either intrinsic or acquired resistance to Wnt ligand antagonists being developed?


Other related articles published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal include the following:

Targeting the Wnt Pathway [7.11]

Wnt/β-catenin Signaling [7.10]

Cancer Signaling Pathways and Tumor Progression: Images of Biological Processes in the Voice of a Pathologist Cancer Expert

e-Scientific Publishing: The Competitive Advantage of a Powerhouse for Curation of Scientific Findings and Methodology Development for e-Scientific Publishing – LPBI Group, A Case in Point 

Electronic Scientific AGORA: Comment Exchanges by Global Scientists on Articles published in the Open Access Journal – Four Case Studies



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Recent Breakthroughs in Cancer Research at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology- 2015

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

Below are recent advances which occurred in 2015 on Cancer at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology


  • role of proteosome, metabolomics, cell signaling and ubiquitin system in cancer progression
  • partnerships with pharma and academic centers around the globe
  • development of early detection kits and novel therapeutic strategies including nanoparticle drug delivery systems




The ubiquitin system produces a protein that greatly restricts the development of cancerous tumors.

A new study by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology could hold one key to control cancer cell growth and development. In a paper published in the April 9, 2015 edition of CELL, the team reports on the discovery of two cancer-suppressing proteins.

Distinguished Professor Aaron Ciechanover. Photographer: Dan Porges

Distinguished Professor Aaron Ciechanover. Photographer: Dan Porges

The research was conducted in the laboratory of Distinguished Professor Aaron Ciechanover, of the Technion Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. The team was led by research associate Dr. Yelena Kravtsova-Ivantsiv and , included additional research students and colleagues, as well as physicians from the Rambam, Carmel and Hadassah Medical Centers, who are studying tumors and their treatment.

The heretofore-undiscovered proteins were found during ongoing research on the ubiquitin system, an important and vital pathway in the life of the cell, which is responsible for the degradation of defective proteins that could damage the cell if not removed. The ubiquitin system tags these proteins and sends them for destruction in the cellular complex known as the proteasome.  The system also removes functional and healthy proteins that are not needed anymore, thereby regulating the processes that these proteins control.

Usually, the proteins that reach the proteasome are completely broken down, but there are some exceptions, and the current line of research examined p105, a long precursor of a key regulator in the cell called NF-κB. It turns out that p105 can be broken down completely in certain cases following its tagging by ubiquitin,  but in other cases it is only cut and shortened and becomes a protein called p50.

NF-κB has been identified as a link between inflammation and cancer. The hypothesis of the connection between inflammatory processes and cancer was first suggested in 1863 by German pathologist Rudolph Virchow, and has been confirmed over the years in a long series of studies. Ever since the discovery (nearly 30 years ago) of NF-κB, numerous articles have been published linking it to malignant transformation. It is involved in tumors of various organs (prostate, breast, lung, head and neck, large intestine, brain, etc.) in several parallel ways, including: inhibition of apoptosis (programmed cell death) normally eliminates transformed cells; acceleration of uncontrolled division of cancer cells; formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which are vital to tumor growth; and increased resistance of cancerous cells to irradiation and chemotherapy.

The dramatic effect of these proteins on cancer growth: above the two tumors in the foreground (the control group) are tumors that express high levels of the proteins

The dramatic effect of these proteins on cancer growth: above the two tumors in the foreground (the control group) are tumors that express high levels of the proteins

As noted, the precursor p105 is “handled” by the ubiquitin system in one of two parallel and equally prevalent ways. It is either destroyed completely, or shortened and transformed to p50. The current research deciphers the decision-making mechanism that determines which process will be applied to the protein: when a ubiquitin system component called KPC1 is involved in the process and attaches ubiquitin to p105, the protein is shortened to become p50. When ubiquitination is mediated by another component of the system (and without KPC1), p105 is degraded.

The ubiquitin molecule within all living cells

The ubiquitin molecule within all living cells

The decision between these two options has significant implications on the cell, as the presence of high levels of KPC1 (which generates p50) and p50 (the product of the process) – with the accompanying disruption of the normal ratios between the processes – suppresses the malignant growth and apparently protects the healthy tissue. The current research was conducted on models of human tumors grown in mice, as well as on samples of human tumors, and a strong connection was discovered between the suppression of malignancy and the level of the two proteins, clearly indicating that the increased presence of KPC1 and/or p50 in the tissue can protect it from cancerous tumors.

Professor Ciechanover, who is also the president of the Israel Cancer Society, notes that many more years are required “to establish the research and gain a solid understanding of the mechanisms behind the suppression of the tumors. The development of a drug based on this discovery is a possibility, although not a certainty, and the road to such a drug is long and far from simple.”

Professor Ciechanover won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004 (jointly with Professors Avram Hershko – also from the Technion – and Irwin Rose, of the Fox Chase Cancer Center) for the discovery of the ubiquitin system. The current line of research is a continuation of that discovery.

Indian generic drugmaker giant Sun Pharma to work with Technion to explore new ways to fight tumors

By David Shamah April 17, 2015, 3:09 pm 10

President Reuven Rivlin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, March 29, 2015 (photo credit: Courtesty Tomer Reichmann)

President Reuven Rivlin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, March 29, 2015 (photo credit: Courtesty Tomer Reichmann)
President Reuven Rivlin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, March 29, 2015 (photo credit: Courtesty Tomer Reichmann)


Days after the Technion announced that a team led by Nobel Prize laureate Professor Aaron Ciechanover had discovered how proteins could be used to suppress cancer and control tumor growth and development, the institute revealed that it had entered into an exclusive agreement with India’s Sun Pharmaceuticals — the world’s fifth-largest specialty generic pharmaceutical company and India’s top pharmaceutical company.

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Under the agreement, researchers from the Technion and Sun will conduct studies on how high concentrations of two proteins can protect tissue from tumors. A study published in the medical journal Cell this week discussed how the proteins can suppress malignancies.

Along with Ciechanover, the research team included Dr. Gila Maor and Professor Ofer Binah. In a statement, Ciechanover said that the research held a great deal of promise of an effective drug for treating cancer, “although this is not a certainty, and the road to such a drug is long and far from simple.”

The deal with Sun is just one of several R&D ventures between Israel and India, on both the business and government levels. So far, the two countries have signed seven bilateral economic and R&D agreements, including one that fosters joint projects on space travel and satellite development.


NYU and Technion to forge ‘groundbreaking’ partnership in cancer research

On Wednesday night, they announced a $9 million gift from philanthropists Laura and Isaac Perlmutter that will fund two major, joint research endeavors with potentially far-reaching impact in advancing cancer research. The joint program aims at attracting additional, world-class support from institutions and individuals who are dedicated to eradicating cancer through focused and efficient research, they said in a joint statement.

The first $3 million of the grant will finance six cancer-focused research projects to be conducted by teams spearheaded by co-investigators from both NYU and the Technion. The remaining $6 million will be used to establish a state-of-the-art research facility on Technion’s campus that will support these and other research projects and focus mainly on the emerging field of cancer metabolomics.

“NYU Langone and the Technion have a shared, longstanding commitment to advancing cancer research,” said Dr. Dafna Bar-Sagi, senior vice president and vice dean for science at the New York hospital, chief science officer at NYU School of Medicine and a principal architect of the NYU Langone-Technion partnership.  “We are now at a great moment in our institutions’ illustrious histories, a point from which we can jointly leverage the talent and creativity of our researchers toward accelerating breakthroughs. The foresight and the generosity of the Perlmutters, particularly at this time of financial challenge in funding for basic research, will have tremendous impact.”

“Bringing together the unique expertise of researchers from both NYU and the Technion will hopefully enable us to overcome some of the most difficult challenges in treating cancer patients,” said Technion Prof.  Aaron Ciechanover, the 2004 Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry and Distinguished Research Professor and head of the David and Janet Polak Cancer and Vascular Biology Research Center at the Technion Faculty of Medicine.

Renowned cancer biologist Dr. Benjamin Neel, an expert in the field of cell signal transduction, recently joined the Langone faculty as director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center, and Dr. Eyal Gottlieb, a world leader in cancer metabolism, has been recruited to lead the new research facility at the Technion funded by the Perlmutter gift. Neel will work closely with Ciechanover to lead the collaborative cancer research effort between the two institutions, they said.

In addition, Neel will oversee at NYU the building of world-class translational programs in immunotherapy, cancer genetics/targeted therapies and epigenetics, imaging, as well as expanded programs in clinical care, community outreach and supportive oncology.

New technology for early detection of stomach cancer

The innovative method, developed at the Technion, identifies persons at risk for developing stomach cancer and for detecting tumors at an earlier stage. The prestigious journal Gut, which published the research, notes that the detection method is quick, simple, inexpensive and non-invasive.

Innovative gastric cancer-detection technology

Innovative gastric cancer-detection technology

Innovative gastric cancer-detection technology developed by the Technion can be used for the early detection of stomach cancer and for identifying persons at risk for developing the disease. The new detection method, based on breath analysis, has significant advantages over the existing detection technology: Gut reports that the new method is quick, simple, inexpensive and non-invasive.

Gastric cancer is one of the most lethal forms of cancer and in most cases, its diagnosis involves an endoscopy (the insertion of a tube into the esophagus, requiring that the patient fast and receive an intravenous sedative). Treatment is aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and the full or partial removal of the stomach. The disease develops in a series of well-defined steps, but there’s currently no effective, reliable, and non-invasive screening test for picking up these changes early on. Thus, many people succumb to stomach cancer only because it was not diagnosed in time.

The new technology, developed by Prof. Hossam Haick of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering, can be used to detect premalignant lesions at the earliest stage, when healthy cells start becoming cancerous.

The research, published in Gut as part of the doctoral thesis of Mr. Haitham Amal, was conducted in conjunction with a Latvian research group headed by Prof. Marcis Leja, based on the largest population sample ever in a trial of this type. 484 people participated in the trial, 99 of whom had already been diagnosed with stomach cancer. All the participants were tested for Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium known to increase the risk for stomach cancer, and two breath samples were taken from each person.

The first sample from each participant was analyzed using the GCMS technique, which measures volatile organic substances in exhaled breath. The researchers noted that GCMS technology cannot be used to detect stomach cancer because the testing is very expensive and requires lengthy processing times and considerable expertise to operate the equipment.

The second breath sample was tested using nanoarray analysis, the unique technology developed by Prof. Haick, combined with a pattern recognition algorithm.

The findings:

  1. Based on the concentrations of 8 specific substances (out of 130) in the oral cavity, the new technology can distinguish between three groups: gastric cancer patients, persons who have precancerous stomach lesions, and healthy individuals.
  2. The new technology accurately distinguishes between the various pre-malignant stages.
  3. The new technology can be used to identify persons at risk for developing gastric cancer.
  4. The diagnosis is accurate, regardless of other factors such as age, sex, smoking habits, alcohol consumption and the use of anti-oxidant drugs.

In short, the nano-array analysis method developed by Prof. Haick is accurate, sensitive technology that provides a simple and inexpensive alternative to existing tests (such as GCMS). This new technology offers early, effective detection of persons at risk for developing stomach cancer, without unnecessary invasive tests (endoscopy). In order to assess the accuracy and effectiveness of the new, a wide-scale clinical trial is currently under way in Europe, with thousands of participants who have cancerous or pre-cancerous tumors.

About Prof. Hossam Haick

Prof. Hossam Haick, who joined the senior staff at the Technion Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering in 2006, has been working since that year on the development of innovative, non-invasive technology for detecting cancer and other diseases. This technology is based on an “electronic nose” – an apparatus capable of detecting illnesses by analyzing a patient’s exhaled breath.

Prof. Haick, a native of Nazareth, completed his Ph.D. studies at the Technion by the time he was 27 and went to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and Caltech Institute of Technology in California. He returned to the Technion in 2006 and his research group was awarded one million euros in grants by the European Union, which was very impressed by his research into artificial olfactory systems. Today he heads a consortium that includes Siemens and several universities, research institutes and companies in Germany, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Latvia and Israel. Since joining the senior faculty in the Chemical Engineering Department in 2006, Prof. Haick has won dozens of awards, grants and international honors. These include the Marie Curie Excellence Grant, European Research Council (ERC) grant and the Bill & Melinda Gates Award. Prof. Haick was nominated to MIT’s list of the 35 leading young scientists worldwide, received the Knight of the Order of Academic Palms, from the French Government and won the Hershel Rich Technion Innovation Award (twice), as well as the Tenne Prize for Excellence in the Science of Nanotechnology. He has also been recognized for his outstanding teaching skills and is the recipient of the Yanai Prize for Academic Excellence. In 2014, at the initiative of the president of the Technion, Prof. Haick headed an MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in nanotechnology and nano-sensors that had an enrollment of 42,000.


Early Warning of Cancer Metastasis

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Israel and around the world. Innovative technology developed at the Technion Faculty of Biomedical Engineering will enable the prediction of cancer metastasis after the appearance of breast cancer. The technology, whose efficacy has been proven in preliminary laboratory-trials, is entering into advanced testing using cells from patients undergoing surgery.

In contrast to benign cells (right), metastatic cells (left) penetrate into the gel and disappear inside it, thanks to their unique characteristics
In contrast to benign cells (right), metastatic cells (left) penetrate into the gel and disappear inside it, thanks to their unique characteristics

Assistant Professor Daphne Weihs recently achieved a research breakthrough: the unique technology that she developed – a biomechanical method for early detection of metastatic cancer – was approved by the Ethics Committee. This means that the technology that was found to be effective in tests on cell lines will advance to trials with tumor cells collected directly after surgery, in cooperation with Rambam Healthcare Campus.

According to Assistant Professor Weihs, the practical concept is that “during or immediately after a biopsy or surgery on a malignant tumor, the system will enable the medical team to quantitatively evaluate the likelihood of the presence or development of tumor metastases in other organs, and to propose which organ or organs are involved. Such knowledge will make it possible to act at a very early stage to identify and curb these metastases and, moreover, to prevent the primary tumor from metastasizing further.

Cancer is a general name for a wide family of diseases – more than 200 – whose common denominator is that the cell division rate becomes uncontrolled and the cells become immortal. In other words, the cancer mechanism disrupts the normal cell division process and converts it into “wild” and rapid division. Since the cells do not age and do not die, the original, primary tumor expands, invades and takes over more and more nearby tissue. In addition, apart from spreading to its immediate vicinity, a tumor that has become very aggressive “knows” how to send metastases to more distant tissues through the lymph and circulatory systems. Metastases (secondary tumors) are usually more dangerous than the primary tumor because it is difficult to identify them at their inception. When they are detected at an advanced stage, treating them medically is more complicated and the medical prognosis is typically not good.

“In fact, most cancer-related deaths are caused by metastases rather than by the primary tumor, and therefore vast resources are invested in developing methods for early detection of metastases,” explains Assistant Professor Daphne Weihs. “Early detection means timely and more effective treatment. The new approach that we are developing will enable early prediction of the likelihood of the formation of metastases and where in the body their development is probable. This prediction is based on identifying the biomechanics of the primary tumor cells, and does not require us to know the specific genetic makeup of the tumor.”

Mobile SniffPhone will detect cancer on a user’s breath

Diagnostic system developed by Technion professor is to pair with tiny smell-sensitive sensor that can go anywhere
By David Shamah February 3, 2015, 2:05 pm

A patient uses the NaNose breathalyzer (Photo credit: Courtesy Technion)

David Shamah

An innovative early disease detection system that uses the sense of smell is going mobile.


The NaNose breathalyzer technology developed by Professor Hossam Haick of the Technion will soon be installed in a mobile phone – to be called, appropriately, the SniffPhone. A tiny smell-sensitive sensor will be installed onto a phone add-on, and using specially designed software, the phone will be able to “smell” users’ breath to determine if they have cancer, among other serious diseases.

By identifying the special “odor” emitted by cancer cells, the NaNose system can detect the presence of tumors, both benign and malignant, more quickly, efficiently and cheaply than previously possible, said Haick.

“Current cancer diagnosis techniques are ineffective and impractical,” he said. NaNose technology, he said, “could facilitate faster therapeutic intervention, replacing expensive and time-consuming clinical follow-up that would eventually lead to the same intervention.”

According to research done by Haick’s team, the NaNose system has a 90 percent accuracy rate.

The smartphone device is just a vehicle to implement the NaNose technology that can be taken anywhere and used in any circumstances, including in rural areas of the developing world where bringing in sophisticated testing equipment is impossible.

The plan calls for a chip with NaNose technology to be installed in a device that is attached to a smartphone, and for an app to read the sensor data, analyzing it on the device or uploading it to the cloud for processing.

NaNose technology will be especially useful in battling lung cancer, said Haick. According to US government statistics, lung cancer kills more Americans annually than the next three most common cancers — colon, breast, and pancreatic — combined. The reason, doctors say, is because lung cancer is so difficult to detect. Currently, the only way to detect early-stage lung cancer is through an extensive process involving blood tests, biopsies, CT scans, ultrasound tests, and other procedures — and even then, detection is difficult.

“Mostly the patient arrives for diagnosis when the symptoms of the sickness have already begun to appear,” said Haick, describing the drawbacks in current detection protocols. “Months pass before a real analysis in completed. And the process requires complicated and expensive equipment such as CT and mammography imaging devices. Each machine costs millions of dollars, and ends up delivering rough, inaccurate results.”

Dr. Hossam Haick (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Dr. Hossam Haick (Photo credit: Courtesy)


The NaNose-based system, on the other hand, doesn’t require anything more than a patient’s breathing into the device in order to come up with an initial diagnosis. Lung cancer tumors produce chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which easily evaporate into the air and produce a discernible scent profile. Haick’s NaNose chip detects the unique “signature” of VOCs in exhaled breath. In four out of five cases, the device differentiated between benign and malignant lung lesions and even different cancer subtypes.

The project is being funded by the European Commission, which has given the consortium developing it a six million euro grant. The developers include universities and research institutes from Germany, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Latvia, as well as Irish cell biology research firm Cellix, with the NaNose system the centerpiece of the technology. That Israeli-developed component will be delivered by an Israeli start-up called NanoVation-GS, a spinoff of the Technion. Professor Haick serves as the start-up’s Chief Science Officer.

“The SniffPhone is a winning solution. It will be made tinier and cheaper than disease detection solutions currently, consume little power, and most importantly, it will enable immediate and early diagnosis that is both accurate and non-invasive,” said Haick. “Early diagnosis can save lives, particularly in life-threatening diseases such as cancer.”


Nanotech Drug Delivery Method For Cancer Could Replace Conventional Chemotherapy

By NoCamels Team March 03, 2015 5 Comments


Anyone who knows a person in the midst of chemotherapy is aware that anti-cancer drugs often take a very harsh toll on the body. This is one reason scientists have been trying to develop improved means of drug delivery for years. Now, a Technion research team discovered a way to improve drug delivery to tumors using Nanostructured Porous Silicon (PSi) particles (instead of an IV drip), a method that’s emerging as a promising new platform for drug delivery. In the future, PSi could be used in cancer treatments, potentially offering an alternative to traditional chemotherapy, which is notorious for its agonizing side effects.

The silicon “carriers” used in this study to deliver chemotherapy drugs behave differently in cancerous tumors than they do in healthy tissues. Therefore, the findings could help scientists to design nano-carriers that deliver drugs to tumors, instead of treating patients with traditional, intravenous chemotherapy. However, it would take years to develop and apply this new type of drug delivery method, which would potentially be taken orally.

     SEE ALSO: Study: How To Make Chemotherapy Side-Effects Less Deadly

So far, these nano-silicon “containers” have been studied in vitro – outside of a living organism – rather than in an environment that behaves more closely to that of a tumor in a cancer patient’s body. The Technion research team looked at what happens to PSi particles when they’re injected into the area around the tumor in mice. The significant differences in the area around a cancerous growth and regular healthy tissue have been widely described and studied; however, the effect on these porous silicon “containers,” or carriers, was unknown until now.

Prof. Ester Segal of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, who led this joint study with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Harvard Medical School, said the team has “shown for the first time that bio-materials in general, and Nanostructured Porous Silicon in particular, behave differently when they are injected (or implanted) at the tumor micro-environment.”

Revolutionizing cancer treatments

Silicon materials could revolutionize treatments in a way that no existing drug delivery does. Prof. Segal tells NoCamels that the silicon containers “could deliver drugs over a long period of time – weeks or even months”, something no existing chemotherapeutic delivery mechanism can do currently.

cancer cells

Cancer cells

The special properties of these porous nano-silicon carriers lie in their large surface area, which can ferry many or large drug molecules. Additionally, due to their biodegradability they’re able to break down into harmless silicic acid, which is expelled through urination. They are also biocompatible, so they do not stimulate any inflammation or clotting. Another benefit to these nano-silicon containers is their versatility. They can be ingested, injected or implanted, and they can be designed to carry a wide range of dosage sizes. In the process of their study, lab members also developed an approach to determining how biomaterials will react in settings more similar to their eventual clinical purpose – treating cancer, for example.

     SEE ALSO: Israeli Researchers Create ‘Trojan Horse’ Of Chemotherapy

In a separate study, Tel Aviv University scientists recently found a strategy that would stop brain tumor cell proliferation with similar nano-particles. “It is a basic, elegant mechanism and much less toxic than chemotherapy,” TAU’s Prof. Dan Peer said in a statement.

These works underline the importance of such studies in successfully developing bio-delivery materials that will have therapeutic benefits in the near future.

The ‘Magic Bullet’ of Chemotherapy

“Nano-skeletons’ (in red) delivered to human tissue infected by prostate cancer. The infected cells are colored in blue (PIP) and green (cytoplasmic); it is possible to see how the ‘nano-skeletons’ reach them

“Nano-skeletons’ (in red) delivered to human tissue infected by prostate cancer. The infected cells are colored in blue (PIP) and green (cytoplasmic); it is possible to see how the ‘nano-skeletons’ reach them

Florida native Dr. Beth Schoen, is part of a team developing a novel platform for delivering anti-cancerous drugs directly to its mark as part of her postdoctoral research at the Technion

Beth Schoen, born in Hollywood Florida, came to the Technion to conduct her postdoctoral research at age 26. In her very limited spare time she plays soccer for the leading all women’s soccer team – Maccabi Hadera – and studies Hebrew. “The Hebrew thing is no simple matter,” she confesses, “but I’m willing to make the effort, because it’s clear to me that Israel is where I want to live.”

Dr. Beth Schoen completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida, and her doctorate at Michigan State University in chemical engineering. “My doctoral studies focused on synthetic organic chemistry, particularly on the development of polymers with unique thermodynamic attributes especially resistant to high temperatures. These types of materials are used in part for the production of jet engine parts, body armor and Nomex (used for making fire-resistant gloves and overalls). One of our tasks was to create soft sheets that were not brittle, to be worn to be both bulletproof and fire resistant. It was a theoretical study, but as part of the process I also produced some of these polymers and tested them.”

Dr. Schoen planned to come to the Technion as part of her doctoral studies, but, she adds, “It didn’t work out, so I started to check where I could best fit in here in my future studies.” She decided to join Prof. Marcelle Machluf’s laboratory, at the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, “I was eager to move from chemistry to biology and pursue cancer research in particular. I was very glad for the tremendous opportunity that Marcelle gave me in taking me on – perhaps it was because of my experience in nanomaterials and polymers.”

Prof. Marcelle Machluf’s research team consists of 17 female and 3 males students, researchers and technicians working on two main projects: (1) the development of scaffolds to rehabilitate damaged heart-tissue, and (2) the development of new technology to deliver drug treatment to damaged (sick) tissue (specifically related to cancer therapy). In an interview with her she focused on the second project.

“The current treatment for cancer involves radiotherapy and chemotherapy usually administered through intravenous infusion. The cancer drugs available are extremely effective, yet the way they are put to use in present day treatment, they also cause damage to healthy tissues. These are very potent drugs – they are intended to kill cancer cells – and on their way they also end up killing healthy ones.”

“The greatest damage is caused to rapidly dividing cells, which are similar to cancer cells. Hair follicle cells, for example, are a type of rapidly dividing cells and they damage easily from these types of treatment, which explains the hair loss in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Other side-effects include nausea and hearing loss, sometimes even leading to deafness. The drug Cisplatin for example, is a type of chemo drug used to treat various types of lung and breast cancers; some of its side-effects include damage to renal and immune system functioning, putting patients at risk to infections and diseases.”

These impediments are what fuel Prof. Machluf’s drive to develop a new drug delivery platforms capable of delivering anti-cancer drugs directly to the tumor without damaging healthy tissues on its way. “This is the top priority of cancer treatment: to develop a ‘magic bullet’ that target cancer cells,” explains Prof. Machluf. “And our new platform may be the solution to this great challenge.”

The new platform is based on ‘depleting’ specific cells – mesenchymal stem cells – so that there is nothing left of them save for the membrane. This membrane, called a ghost cells can be down sized to nano-vesicles, termed nano-ghosts, which can be loaded with any drug and delivered by injection directly into the blood stream. The immune system falls for the trap and does not recognize the ‘intruder,’ instead it treats these cells as if they were naturally part of the system and sends them to the afflicted area. On the way to their target they do not release the drug they are carrying and therefore do not do any damage to healthy tissues. Only upon reaching the malignant tissue, which they know how to identify, do they break down and secrete their contents at the site of the tumor cells.

This original idea was tested in a long series of experiments, and the results are very impressive: these nano-ghosts are in fact tumor selective, no matter the type of tumor. They ‘dash’ straight to the malignant tissue without emitting their drug on the way and without damaging healthy cells. Moreover, this unique ‘parcel’ increases the effectiveness of the treatment by ten-fold. Animal studies have shown that the employment of nano-ghosts for anti-cancer drug delivery have led to an 80% delay of prostate cancer – an unprecedented rate.

Still, there is a lot of work ahead, as Prof. Machluf’s research team works on improving the mechanism of this novel new platform: some of them are focusing on compatibility with specific drugs while others, like Dr. Beth Schoen, are concentrating on improving the nano-ghosts “This platform must be very precise,” explains Schoen. “It must be able to endure travelling through the entire human body, and release its contents only inside the tumor.”

The research is being carried out in collaboration with the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute.

For a Full Report From the President of Technion on all Innovations Occurring at Technion during 2015 please click below

Other Resources 

Governor Cuomo Delivers Remarks at Zuckerman Scholars Program in STEM Leadership

Other related articles on Cancer Research @Technion were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

Medical Breakthrough: Israeli Researcher Predicts Where Cancer Will Spread

Pancreatic Cancer at the Crossroads of Metabolism

Next-generation Universal Cell Immunotherapy startup Adicet Bio, Menlo Park, CA is launched with $51M Funding by OrbiMed

Solutions for Multiple Myeloma – a cancer formed by Malignant Plasma Cells: Collaboration of NYU and Technion Integrative Cancer Center

List of Breakthroughs in Cancer Research and Oncology Drug Development by Awardees of The Israel Cancer Research Fund

Biomarkers of Cancer detected by BreathAnalyzer – An Collaborative effort of three Universities

Read Full Post »

Genomic Promise for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Dementias, Autism Spectrum, Schizophrenia, and Serious Depression

Reporter and writer: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

There has been an considerable success in the current state of expanding our knowledge in genomics and therapeutic targets in cancer (although clinical remission targets and relapse are a concern), cardiovascular disease, and infectious disease.  Our knowledge of  prenatal and perinatal events is still at an early stage.  The neurology front is by no means unattended.  Here there are two prominent drivers of progress –

  • genomic control of cellular apoptosis by ubiquitin pathways, and
  • epigenetic investigations,

among a complex sea of sequence-changes.  I indicate some of the current status in this.  However, as much as we have know, there is an incredible barrier to formulate working models because:

  1. ligand binding between DNA short-sequences is not predictable over time
  2. binding between proteins and DNA is still largely unknown
  3. specific regulatory roles between nucleotide-sequences and histone proeins are still unclear
  4. the relationship between intracellular as well as extracellular cations and the equilibria between cations and anions in intertitial fluid that bathes the cell and between organelles is virgin territory

Consequently, it is quite an accomplishment to have come as far as we have come, and yet, even with the huge compuational power at our disposal, there is insuficient data to unravel the complexity.  This may be especially true in the pathway to understanding of neurological and behavioral disorders.

Broad Map of Brain

John Markoff reports in the Feb 18 front-page of New York Times (Project would construct a broad map of the brain) that the Obama administration envisions a decade-long effort to examine the workings of the human brain and construct a map, comparable to what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.  It will be a collaboration between universities, the federal government, private foundations, and teams of scientists (neuro-, nano- and whoever else).  The goal is to break through the barrier to understanding the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insight into

  • perception
  • actions
  • and consciousness.

Essentially, it holds great promise for understanding

Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, as well as finding therapies for a variety of mental illnesses.  An open-ended question is whether it will also advance artificial intelligence research.  It is termed the Brain Activity Map project.

Schizophrenia Genomics

Scientists Reveal Genomic Explanation for Schizophrenia

July 11, 2011 Sequences Reveal Role for De Novo Mutations in Schizophrenia/
ttp:// Sequences Reveal Role for De Novo Mutations in Schizophrenia/ integrates diverse neurological signals that control the development of embryonic stem cell and neural progenitor cells/

Buffalo, NY (Scicast) (GenomeWeb News) –

Two new studies, published in Schizophrenia Research and in Nature Genetics, propose hypotheses in a new mouse model of schizophrenia that demonstrates how gestational brain changes cause behavioural problems later in life.  

The first study implicates

A fibroblast growth factor receptor protein, (FGFR1), targets diverse genes implicated in schizophrenia.  The research demonstrates how defects in an important neurological pathway in early development

  • may be responsible for the onset of schizophrenia later in life.

Individuals with sporadic schizophrenia tend to carry more deleterious genetic changes than found in the general population, according to an exome sequencing study  that appeared online in Nature Genetics yesterday.  “The occurrence of de novo mutations may in part explain the high worldwide incidence of schizophrenia,”  according to co-senior author Guy Rouleau, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center of University of Montreal.
Researchers from Canada and France did exome sequencing on individuals from 14 parent-child trios, each comprised of an individual with schizophrenia and his or her unaffected parents. In the process, they found

  • 15 de novo mutations in coding sequences from eight individuals with the psychiatric condition, including
  • four nonsense mutations predicted to abbreviate protein sequences.

“They surmise that [de novo mutations] may account for some of the heritability reported for schizophrenia.  Recent exome sequencing studies involving parent-child trios have implicated de novo mutations in other brain-related conditions, including

  • autism spectrum disorder and
  • mental retardation.

To detect de novo genetic changes specific to schizophrenia, the team compared coding sequences from affected individuals with

  • the human reference genome, with
  • both of his or her parents, and
  • with 26 unrelated control individuals.

Of the 15 de-novo mutations verified by Sager sequencing,

  • 11 were missense mutations predicted to alter the amino acid sequence of the resulting protein and
  • four were nonsense mutations predicted to truncate it.

Among the genes containing nonsense mutations were the zinc finger protein-coding gene ZNF480, the karyopherin alpha 1 gene KPNA1, the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related gene LRP1, and the ALS-like protein-coding gene ALS2CL.

The 15 mutations were found in coding sequences from eight of the individuals with schizophrenia,

  • hinting at a higher de novo mutation rate in individuals with sporadic schizophrenia than is predicted in the population overall.

This difference seems to be specific to exomes, and the researchers noted that

  • de novo mutation rates across the entire genome are likely comparable in those with or without schizophrenia.

They conclude that the enrichment of [de novo mutations] within the coding sequence of individuals with schizophrenia may underlie the pathogenesis of many of these individual.  Most of the genes identified in this study have not been previously linked to schizophrenia, thereby providing new potential therapeutic targets.

The second study

  • identifies the Integrative Nuclear FGFR 1 Signaling (INFS) as a central intersection point for multiple pathways of
  • as many as 160 different genes believed to be involved in the disorder.

The lead author Dr. Michal Stachowiakthis (UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences) suggests this  is the first model that explains schizophrenia

  1. from genes
  2. to development
  3. to brain structure and
  4. finally to behaviour .

A key challenge has been that patients with schizophrenia exhibit mutations in different genes. It is  possible to have 100 patients with schizophrenia and each one has a different genetic mutation that causes the disorder. The explanation is possibly because INFS integrates diverse neurological signals that control the development of embryonic stem cell and neural progenitor cells, and

  • links pathways involving schizophrenia-linked genes.

“INFS functions like the conductor of an orchestra,” explains Stachowiak. “It doesn’t matter which musician is playing the wrong note,

  • it brings down the conductor and the whole orchestra.

With INFS, we propose that

  • when there is an alteration or mutation in a single schizophrenia-linked gene,
  • the INFS system that controls development of the whole brain becomes untuned.

Using embryonic stem cells, Stachowiak and colleagues at UB and other institutions found that

  • some of the genes implicated in schizophrenia bind the FGFR1 (fibroblast growth factor receptor) protein,
  • which in turn, has a cascading effect on the entire INFS.

“We believe that FGFR1 is the conductor that physically interacts with all genes that affect schizophrenia,” he says. “We think that schizophrenia occurs

  • when there is a malfunction in the transition from stem cell to neuron, particularly with dopamine neurons.”

The researchers tested their hypothesis by creating an FGFR1 mutation in mice, which produced the hallmarks of the human disease: altered brain anatomy,

  • behavioural impacts and
  • overloaded sensory processes.

The researchers would like to devise ways to arrest development of the disease before it presents fully in adolescence or adulthood. The UB work adds to existing evidence that nicotinic agonists, might  help improve cognitive function in schizophrenics by acting on the INFS.


childhood-schizophrenia-symptoms (Photo credit: Life Mental Health)

English: Types of point mutations. With examples.

English: Types of point mutations. With examples. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parkinson’s Disease


PINK1 and Parkin and Parkinson’s Disease

Studies of the familial Parkinson disease-related proteins PINK1 and Parkin have demonstrated that these factors promote the fragmentation and turnover of mitochondria following treatment of cultured cells with mitochondrial depolarizing agents. Whether PINK1 or Parkin influence mitochondrial quality control under normal physiological conditions in dopaminergic neurons, a principal cell type that degenerates in Parkinson disease, remains unclear. To address this matter, we developed a method to purify and characterize neural subtypes of interest from the adult Drosophila brain.

Using this method, we find that dopaminergic neurons from Drosophila parkin mutants accumulate enlarged, depolarized mitochondria, and that genetic perturbations that promote mitochondrial fragmentation and turnover rescue the mitochondrial depolarization and neurodegenerative phenotypes of parkin mutants. In contrast, cholinergic neurons from parkin mutants accumulate enlarged depolarized mitochondria to a lesser extent than dopaminergic neurons, suggesting that a higher rate of mitochondrial damage, or a deficiency in alternative mechanisms to repair or eliminate damaged mitochondria explains the selective vulnerability of dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson disease.

Our study validates key tenets of the model that PINK1 and Parkin promote the fragmentation and turnover of depolarized mitochondria in dopaminergic neurons. Moreover, our neural purification method provides a foundation to further explore the pathogenesis of Parkinson disease, and to address other neurobiological questions requiring the analysis of defined neural cell types.

Burmana JL, Yua S, Poole AC, Decala RB , Pallanck L. Analysis of neural subtypes reveals selective mitochondrial dysfunction in dopaminergic neurons from parkin mutants.

http://Burmana JL, Yua S, Poole AC, Decala RB , Pallanck L. Analysis of neural subtypes reveals selective mitochondrial dysfunction in dopaminergic neurons from parkin mutants./

Autophagy in Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disease in the elderly. To explore the specific role of autophagy and the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in apoptosis,

  • a specific proteasome inhibitor and macroautophagy inhibitor and stimulator were selected to investigate
  1. pheochromocytoma (PC12) cell lines
  2. transfected with human mutant (A30P) and wildtype (WT) -synuclein.
  • The apoptosis ratio was assessed by flow cytometry.
  • LC3heat shock protein 70 (hsp70) and caspase-3 expression in cell culture were determined by Western blot.
  • The hallmarks of apoptosis and autophagy were assessed with transmission electron microscopy.

Compared to the control group or the rapamycin (autophagy stimulator) group, the apoptosis ratio in A30P and WT cells was significantly higher after treatment with inhibitors of the proteasome and macroautophagy.

  1. The results of Western blots for caspase-3 expression were similar to those of flow cytometry;
  2. hsp70 protein was significantly higher in the proteasome inhibitor group than in control, but
  3. in the autophagy inhibitor and stimulator groups, hsp70 was similar to control.

These findings show that

  1. inhibition of the proteasome and autophagy promotes apoptosis, and
  2. the macroautophagy stimulator rapamycin reduces the apoptosis ratio.
  3. And inhibiting or stimulating autophagy has less impact on hsp70 than the proteasome pathway.

In conclusion,

  • either stimulation or inhibition of macroautophagy, has less impact on hsp70 than on the proteasome pathway.
  • rapamycin decreased apoptotic cells in A30P cells independent of caspase-3 activity.

Although several lines of evidence recently demonstrated crosstalk between autophagy and caspase-independent apoptosis, we could not confirm that

  • autophagy activation protects cells from caspase-independent cell death.

Undoubtedly, there are multiple connections between the apoptotic and autophagic processes. Inhibition of autophagy may

  • subvert the capacity of cells to remove
  • damaged organelles or to remove misfolded proteins, which
  • would favor apoptosis.

However, proteasome inhibition activated macroautophagy and accelerated apoptosis. A likely explanation is inhibition of the proteasome favors oxidative reactions that trigger apoptosis, presumably through

  • a direct effect on mitochondria, and
  • the absence of NADPH2 and ATP which may
  • deinhibit the activation of caspase-2 or MOMP.

Another possibility is that aggregated proteins induced by proteasome inhibition increase apoptosis.

Yang F, Yanga YP, Maoa CJ, Caoa BY, et al. Role of autophagy and proteasome degradation pathways in apoptosis of PC12 cells overexpressing human -synuclein. Neuroscience Letters 2009; 454:203–208. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.027. Role_of_autophagy_and_proteasome_degradation_pathways_in_apoptosis_of_PC12_cells_overexpressing_human –synuclein/

Parkin-dependent Ubiquitination of Endogenous Bax

Autosomal recessive loss-of-function mutations within the PARK2 gene functionally inactivate the E3 ubiquitin ligase parkin, resulting

  • in neurodegeneration of catecholaminergic neurons and a familial form of Parkinson disease.

Current evidence suggests both

  • a mitochondrial function for parkin and
  • a neuroprotective role, which may in fact be interrelated.

The antiapoptotic effects of Parkin have been widely reported, and may involve

fundamental changes in the threshold for apoptotic cytochrome c release, but the substrate(s) involved in Parkin dependent protection had not been identified. This study demonstrates

  • the Parkin-dependent ubiquitination of endogenous Bax
  • comparing primary cultured neurons from WT and Parkin KO mice and
  • using multiple Parkin-overexpressing cell culture systems.

The direct ubiquitination of purified Bax was also observed in vitro following incubation with recombinant parkin.

  1. Parkin prevented basal and apoptotic stress induced translocation of Bax to the mitochondria.
  2. an engineered ubiquitination-resistant form of Bax retained its apoptotic function,
  3. but Bax KO cells complemented with lysine-mutant Bax
  • did not manifest the antiapoptotic effects of Parkin that were observed in cells expressing WT Bax.

The conclusion is that Bax is the primary substrate responsible for the antiapoptotic effects of Parkin, and provides mechanistic insight into at least a subset of the mitochondrial effects of Parkin.

Johnson BN, Berger AK, Cortese GP, and LaVoie MJ. The ubiquitin E3 ligase Parkin regulates the proapoptotic function of Bax. PNAS 2012, pp 6.
http:// The_ubiquitin_E3_ligase_Parkin_regulates_the_proapoptotic_function_of_Bax

                                                                                                                           nature10774-f3.2   ubiquitin structures  Rn1  Rn2

Ubiquitin is a small, compact protein characterized by a b-grasp fold.

Parkin Promotes Mitochondrial Loss in Autophagy

Parkin, an E3 ubiquitin ligase implicated in Parkinson’s disease,

  • promotes degradation of dysfunctional mitochondria by autophagy.

upon translocation to mitochondria, Parkin activates the ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS) for

  • widespread degradation of outer membrane proteins.

We observe

  1. an increase in K48-linked polyubiquitin on mitochondria,
  2. recruitment of the 26S proteasome and
  3. rapid degradation of multiple outer membrane proteins.

The degradation of proteins by the UPS occurs independently of the autophagy pathway, and

  • inhibition of the 26S proteasome completely abrogates Parkin-mediated mitophagy in HeLa, SH-SY5Y and mouse cells.

Although the mitofusins Mfn1 and Mfn2 are rapid degradation targets of Parkin, degradation of additional targets is essential for mitophagy.

It appears that remodeling of the mitochondrial outer membrane proteome is important for mitophagy, and reveal

  • a causal link between the UPS and autophagy, the major pathways for degradation of intracellular substrates.

Chan NC, Salazar AM, Pham AH, Sweredoski MJ, et al. Broad activation of the ubiquitin–proteasome system by Parkin is critical for mitophagy. Human Molecular Genetics 2011; 20(9): 1726–1737. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddr048. Broad_activation_of_the_ubiquitin–proteasome_system_by_Parkin_is_critical_for_mitophagy/

Autophagy impairment: a crossroad

Nassif M and Hetz C.  Autophagy impairment: a crossroad between neurodegeneration and tauopathies.  BMC Biology 2012; 10:78. impairment: a crossroad between neurodegeneration and tauopathies/
Molecular Neurodegeneration/Nassif M and Hetz C/

Impairment of protein degradation pathways such as autophagy is emerging as

  • a consistent and transversal pathological phenomenon in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer´s, Huntington´s, and Parkinson´s disease.

Genetic inactivation of autophagy in mice has demonstrated a key role of the pathway in maintaining protein homeostasis in the brain,

  • triggering massive neuronal loss and
  • the accumulation of abnormal protein inclusions.

This paper in Molecular Neurodegeneration from Abeliovich´s group now suggests a role for

  • phosphorylation of Tau and
  • the activation of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β)
  • in driving neurodegeneration in autophagy-deficient neurons.

This study illuminatess the factors driving neurofibrillary tangle formation in Alzheimer´s disease and tauopathies.

autophagy & apoptosis          stem cell reprogramming     lysosomes.jpeg   exosomes.jpeg   Epigenetics

images: autophagy, stem cell remodeling, lysosome, exosome, epigenetics,

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Linked To Rare Gene Mutation That Affects Immune System

Article Date: 15 Nov 2012 –
Two international studies published this week point to a link between Alzheimer’s disease and a rare gene mutation that affects the immune system’s inflammation response. The discovery supports an emerging theory about the role of the immune system in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  Both studies were published online this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, one led by John Hardy of University College London, and the other led by the Iceland-based global company deCode Genetics.
Alzheimer’s is a form of distressing brain-wasting disease that gradually robs people of their memories and their ability to lead independent lives. Its main characteristic is the build up of
  • protein tangles and
  • plaques inside and between brain cells, which eventually
  • disrupts their ability to communicate with each other.
Both teams conclude that a rare mutation in a gene called TREM2, which helps trigger immune system responses, raises the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. One study suggests it raises it three-fold, the other, four-fold.  The UCL-led study included researchers from 44 institutions around the world and data on a total of 25,000 people.
After homing in on the TREM2 gene using new sequencing techniques, they carried out further sequencing that identified a set of
  • rare mutations that occurred more often in 1,092 Alzheimer’s disease patients than in a group of 1,107 healthy controls.
They evaluated the most common mutation, R47H, and confirmed that this variant of TREM2 substantially increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  R47H mutation was present in 1.9 percent of the Alzheimer’s patients and in only 0.37 percent of the controls.  The researchers on the study led by deCode Genetics indicate that this strong effect is on a par with that of the well-established gene variant known as APOE4. Not all people who have  the R47H variant will develop Alzheimer’s and in those who do, other genes and environmental factors will also play a role — but like APOE 4 it does substantially increase risk,” Carrasquillo explains.
The study led by deCode Genetics involved collaborators from Iceland, Holland, Germany and the US, not only found a strong link between the R47H variant and Alzheimer’s disease, but the variant also

  • predicts poorer cognitive function in older people without Alzheimer’s.
 In a statement, lead author Kari Stefánsson, CEO and co-founder of deCODE Genetics says:
The discovery of variant TREM2 is important because
  • it confers high risk for Alzheimer’s and
  • because the gene’s normal biological function has been shown to reduce immune response
 He surmises that the  combined factors make TREM2 an attractive target for drug development.
Using deCode’s genome sequencing and genotyping technology, Stefánsson and colleagues identified
  • approximately 41 million markers, including 191,777 functional variants, from
  • 2,261 Icelandic samples.
They further analyzed these variants against the genomes of
  • 3,550 people with Alzheimer’s disease and
  • a control group of over-85s who did not have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
This led to them finding the TREM2 variant, and to make sure this was not just a feature of Icelandic people,
  • they replicated the findings against other control populations in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.
Stefánsson says that the results were enabled by having
  • sophisticated research tools,
  • access to expanded and high quality genomic data sets, and
  • investigators with profound analytic skills,
Researching into genetic causes of disease can, thereby,  be carried out using an approach that combines sequence data and biological knowledge to find new drug targets.

R47H Variant of TREM2 and Immune Response

 Preclinical studies have found that
  • TREM2 is important for clearing away cell debris and amyloid protein, the protein that is associated with the brain plaques
  • that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
 The gene helps control the
  • inflammation response associated with Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.
Rosa Rademakers, a co-author in the UCL-led study, runs a lab at the Mayo Clinic in Florida that helped to pinpoint the R47H variant of TREM2.  Other studies also link the immune system to Alzheimer’s disease, but
  • studies are needed to establish that R47H  acts by altering immune function.


12/10/12 · Emily Humphreys
Epigenetic effects were first described by Conrad Waddington in 1942 as phenotypic changes resulting from an organism interacting with its environment.1 Today, epigenetics is
  • heritable effects in gene expression that are
  • not based on the genetic sequence.
One known epigenetic mechanism includes posttranslational modifications of histones that are
  • found in the nuclei of nearly all eukaryotes and
  • function to package DNA into nucleosomes.
Histone proteins can be heavily decorated with posttranslational modifications (PTMs), such as
  • acetyl-,
  • methyl-, and
  • phosphoryl- groups at distinct amino acid residues.
These modifications are mainly
  • located in the N-terminal tails of the histone and
  • protrude from the core nucleosome structure.
Gene regulation, and the downstream epigenetic effects, can also
  • depend on the cis or trans orientation of the PTMs.2
One PTM, acetylation, is an important determinant of cell replication, differentiation, and death.3  Zhang, et al. investigated the acetylation of histone proteins in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology found in postmortem human brain tissue compared to neurological controls. To study histone acetylation,
  • histones were isolated from frozen temporal lobe samples of patients with advanced AD.
Histones were quantified using Selected-reaction-monitoring (SRM)-based targeted proteomics, an LC-MS/MS-based technique demonstrated by the Zhang lab.4  Histones were also analyzed using western blot analysis and LC-MS/MS-TMT (tandem-mass-tagging) quantitative proteomics. The results of these three experimental strategies agreed, further validating the specificity and sensitivity of the targeted proteomics methods. Histone acetylation was  reduced throughout in the AD temporal lobe compared to matched controls.
  • the histone H3 K18/K23 acetylation was significantly reduced.
Alzheimer’s disease and aging have also been associated with loss of histone acetylation in mouse model studies.5 In addition, Francis et al. found
  • cognitively impaired mice had a 50% reduced H4 acetylation in APP/PS1 mice than wild-type littermates.6
In mice, histone deacetylase inhibitors heve restored histone acetylation and improved memory in mice with age-related impairments or in models for other neurodegenerative diseases.7
Further studies of histone acetylation in AD could lead to target therapies in the disease pathology of neurodegenerative diseases, and
  • increase our understanding of how epigenetic mechanisms, such as histone acetylation, alter gene regulation.
1. Waddington, C.H., (1942). ‘The epigenotype‘, Endeavour, 1942 (1), (pp. 18-20)
2. Sidoli, S., Cheng, L., and Jensen O.N. (2012) ‘Proteomics in chromatin biology and epigenetics: Elucidation of post-translational modifications of histone proteins by mass spectrometry‘, Journal of Proteomics, 75 (12), (pp. 3419-3433)
3. Zhang. K., et al. (2012) ‘Targeted proteomics for quantification of histone acetylation in Alzheimer’s disease‘, Proteomics, 12 (8), (pp. 1261-1268)
4. Darwanto, A., et al., (2010) ‘A modified “cross-talk” between histone H2B Lys-120 ubiquitination and H3 Lys-K79 methylation‘, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 285 (28), (pp. 21868-21876)
5. Govindarajan, N., et al. (2011) ‘Sodium butyrate improves memory function in an Alzheimer’s disease model when administered at an advanced stage of disease progression‘, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 26 (1), (pp.187-197)
6. Francis, Y.I., et al., (2009) ‘Dysregulation of histone acetylation in the APP/PS1 mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease‘, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 18 (1), (pp. 131-139)
7. Kilgore, M., et al., (2010) ‘Inhibitors of class 1 histone deacetylases reverse contextual memory deficits in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease‘, Neuropsychopharmacology, 35 (4), (pp. 870-880)
Tags: acetylation, alzheimers disease, epigenetics, histone, targeted proteomics

Tau amyloid

An Outcast Among Peers Gains Traction on Alzheimer’s Cure

Gareth Phillips for The Wall Street Journal
 November 10, 2012, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal
After years of effort, researcher Dr. Claude Wischik is awaiting the results of new clinical trials that will test his theory on the cause of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Wischik, an Australian in his early 30s in the 1980s, was attempting to answer a riddle: What causes Alzheimer’s disease? He needed to examine brain tissue from Alzheimer’s patients soon after death, which required getting family approvals and enlisting mortuary technicians to extract the brains. He collected more than 300 over about a dozen years.
Alzheimer’s researcher Claude Wischik had a view that a brain protein called tau-not plaque is largely responsible. WSJ’s Shirley Wang spoke with Dr. Wischik about his work on a new drug to treat the devastating disease.
The 63-year-old researcher believes that a protein called tau
  • forms twisted fibers known as tangles inside the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients and is largely responsible for driving the disease.
For 20 years, billions of dollars of pharmaceutical investment has placed chief blame on a different protein, beta amyloid, which
  • forms sticky plaques in the brains of sufferers.
A string of experimental drugs designed to attack beta amyloid have failed recently in clinical trials.

Wherefore Tau thy go?

Dr. Wischik, who now lives in Scotland, sees this as tau’s big moment. The company he co-founded 10 years ago, TauRx Pharmaceuticals Ltd., has developed an experimental Alzheimer’s drug that it will begin testing in the coming weeks in two large clinical trials. Other companies are also investing in tau research. Roche Holding bought the rights to a type of experimental tau drug from Switzerland’s closely held AC Immune SA.

Wischik is a scientist who has struggled against a prevailing orthodoxy. In 1854, British doctor John Snow traced a cholera outbreak in London to a contaminated water supply, but his discovery was rejected. A very infamous example is the discovery of the cause of child-bed fever in Rokitanski’s University of Vienna by Ignaz Semmelweis. In 1982, two Australian scientists declared that bacteria (H. pylori) caused peptic ulcers, later to be awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine for their discovery.
Dr. Wischik says he and other tau-focused scientists have been shouted down over the years by what he calls the “amyloid orthodoxy.”  But Dr. Wischik has been hampered by inconclusive research. A small clinical trial of TauRx’s drug in 2008 produced  mixed, results. Of course, influential scientists still think that beta amyloid plays a central role. Although Roche is investing in tau, Richard Scheller, head of drug research at Roche’s biotech unit, Genentech, says the company still has a strong interest in beta amyloid (hedging the bet).  He thinks amyloid drugs may have better results if  testing on Alzheimer’s patients occurs much earlier in the disease to prove effective; Roche recently announced plans to conduct such a trial.  Simply put -“Drugs tied to conventional theories on Alzheimer’s causes haven’t so far been effective.” Scientists Dr. Wischik accuses of wrongly fixating on beta amyloid argue that the evidence for pursuing amyloid is strong. One view expressed is that drugs to attack both beta amyloid and tau will be necessary.
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia in the elderly, and according to the World Health Organization, the cost of caring for dementia sufferers totals about $600 billion each year world-wide. The disease was first identified in 1906 by German physician Alois Alzheimer, who found in the brain of a deceased woman who had suffered from dementia the plaques and tangles that riddled the tissue. In the 1960s, Dr. Martin Roth and colleagues showed that
  • the degree of clinical dementia was worse for patients with more tangles in the brain.
In the 1980s, Dr. Wischik joined Dr. Roth’s research group at Cambridge University as a Ph.D student, and was quickly assigned the task of
  • determining what tangles were made of, which launched his brain-collecting mission, and years of examining tissue.
Finally, in 1988, he and colleagues at Cambridge published a paper demonstrating for the first time that
  • the tangles first observed by Alzheimer were made at least in part of the protein tau, which was supported by later research.
Like all of the body’s proteins, tau has a normal, helpful function—working inside neurons to help
  • stabilize the fibers that connect nerve cells.
When it misfires, tau clumps together to form harmful tangles that kill brain cells.
Dr. Wischik’s discovery was important news in the Alzheimer’s field:
  • identifying the makeup of tangles made it possible to start developing ways to stop their formation. But by the early 1990s, tau was overtaken by another protein: beta amyloid.

Signs of Decline

Several pieces of evidence convinced an influential group of scientists that beta amyloid was the primary cause of Alzheimer’s.
  •  the discovery of several genetic mutations that all but guaranteed a person would develop a hereditary type of the disease.
  • these appeared to increase the production or accumulation of beta amyloid in the brain,
  • which led scientists to believe that amyloid deposits were the main cause of the disease.
 Athena Neurosciences, a biotech company whose founders included Harvard’s Dr. Selkoe, focused in earnest on developing drugs to attack amyloid. Meanwhile, tau researchers say they found it hard to get research funding or to publish papers in medical journals. It became difficult to have a good publication on tau, because the amyloid cascade was like a dogma. It became the case that if you were not working in the amyloid field you were not working on Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Wischik and his colleagues fought to keep funding from the UK’s Medical Research Council for the repository of brain tissue they maintained at Cambridge, he says. The brain bank became an important tool. In the early 1990s, Dr. Wischik and his colleagues compared the postmortem brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers against those of people who had died without dementia, to see how their levels of amyloid and tau differed. They found that both healthy brains and Alzheimer’s brains could be filled with amyloid plaque, but only Alzheimer’s brains contained aggregated tau.
  • as the levels of aggregated tau in a brain increased, so did the severity of dementia.
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Wischik discovered that
  • a drug sometimes used to treat psychosis dissolved tangles
Nevertheless, American and British venture capitalists wanted to invest in amyloid projects, not tau.
By 2002, Dr. Wischik scraped together about $5 million from Asian investors with the help of a Singaporean physician who was the father of a classmate of Dr. Wischik’s son in Cambridge. TauRx is based in Singapore but conducts most of its research in Aberdeen, Scotland. As his tau effort launched, early tests of drugs designed to attack amyloid plaques were disappointing. To better understand these results, a team of British scientists largely unaffiliated with Athena or the failed clinical trial decided to examine the brains of patients who had participated in the study. They waited for the patients to die, and then, after probing the brains, concluded that
  • the vaccine had indeed cleared amyloid plaque but hadn’t prevented further neurodegeneration.

Peter Davies, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY, recalls hearing a researcher at a conference in the early 2000s concede that his amyloid research results “don’t fit the hypothesis, but we’ll continue until they do! “I just sat there with my mouth open,” he recalls.

In 2004, TauRx began a clinical trial of its drug, called methylene blue, in 332 Alzheimer’s patients. Around the same time, a drug maker called Elan Corp., which had bought Athena Neurosciences, began a trial of an amyloid-targeted drug called bapineuzumab in 234 patients. A key moment came in 2008, when Dr. Wischik and Elan presented results of their studies at an Alzheimer’s conference in Chicago. The Elan drug
  • failed to improve cognition any better than a placebo pill, causing Elan shares to plummet by more than 60% over the next few days.
The TauRx results Dr. Wischik presented were more positive, though not unequivocal. The study showed that,
  • after 50 weeks of treatment, Alzheimer’s patients taking a placebo had fallen 7.8 points on a test of cognitive function,
  • while people taking 60 mg of TauRx’s drug three times a day had fallen one point—
  • translating into an 87% reduction in the rate of decline for people taking the TauRx drug.
But TauRx didn’t publish a full set of data from the trial, causing some skepticism among researchers. (Dr. Wischik says it didn’t to protect the company’s commercial interests). What’s more,
  • a higher, 100-mg dose of the drug didn’t produce the same positive effects in patients;
Dr. Wischik blames this on the way the 100-mg dose was formulated, and says the company is testing a tweaked version of the drug in its new clinical trials, which will begin enrolling patients late this year.
This summer, a trio of companies that now own the rights to bapineuzumab—Elan, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson—
  • scrapped development of the drug after it failed to work in two large clinical trials.
Then in August, Eli Lilly & Co. said its experimental medicine targeting beta amyloid,
  • solanezumab, failed to slow the loss of memory or basic skills like bathing and dressing in two trials
  • involving 2,050 patients with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s.
Lilly has disclosed that in one of the trials, when moderate patients were stripped away,
  • the drug slowed cognitive decline only in patients with mild forms of the disease.
Still fervent believers assert that beta amyloid needs to be attacked very early in the disease cycle—
  • perhaps before symptoms begin.
This spring, the U.S. government said it would help fund a $100 million trial of Roche’s amyloid-targeted drug, crenezumab, in 300 people
  • who are genetically predisposed to develop early-onset Alzheimer’s but who don’t yet have symptoms.
This trial should help provide a “definitive” answer about the theory.
Scientists and investors are giving more attention to tau. Roche this year said it would pay Switzerland’s AC Immune an undisclosed upfront fee for the rights to a new type of tau-targeted drug, and up to CHF400 million in additional payments if any drugs make it to market.
Dr. Buee, the longtime tau researcher in France, says Johnson & Johnson asked him to provide advice on tau last year, and that he’s currently discussing a tau research contract with a big pharmaceutical company. (A Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman says the company invited Dr. Buee and other scientists to a meeting to discuss a range of approaches to fighting Alzheimer’s.)
With its new clinical trial program under way, TauRx is the first company to test a tau-targeted drug against Alzheimer’s in a large human study, known in the industry as a phase 3 trial.  Dr. Wischik

  • In the end…it’s down to the phase 3 trial.

Protein Degradation in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Cebollero E , Reggiori F  and Kraft C.  Ribophagy: Regulated Degradation of Protein Production Factories. Int J Cell Biol. 2012; 2012: 182834. doi:  10.1155/2012/182834 (online).

During autophagy, cytosol, protein aggregates, and organelles

  • are sequestered into double-membrane vesicles called autophagosomes and delivered to the lysosome/vacuole for breakdown and recycling of their basic components.

In all eukaryotes this pathway is important for

  • adaptation to stress conditions such as nutrient deprivation, as well as
  • to regulate intracellular homeostasis by adjusting organelle number and clearing damaged structures.

Starvation-induced autophagy has been viewed as a nonselective transport pathway; but recent studies have revealed that

  • autophagy is able to selectively engulf specific structures, ranging from proteins to entire organelles.

In this paper, we discuss recent findings on the mechanisms and physiological implications of two selective types of autophagy:

  • ribophagy, the specific degradation of ribosomes, and
  • reticulophagy, the selective elimination of portions of the ER.

Lee JH, Yu WH,…, Nixon RA.  Lysosomal Proteolysis and Autophagy Require Presenilin 1 and Are Disrupted by Alzheimer-Related PS1 Mutations. Cell 2010; 141, 1146–1158. DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2010.05.008.

Macroautophagy is a lysosomal degradative pathway essential for neuron survival. Here, we show

  • that macroautophagy requires the Alzheimer’s disease (AD)-related protein presenilin-1 (PS1).

In PS1 null blastocysts, neurons from mice hypomorphic for PS1 or conditionally depleted of PS1,

  • substrate proteolysis and autophagosome clearance during macroautophagy are prevented
  • as a result of a selective impairment of autolysosome acidification and cathepsin activation.

These deficits are caused by failed PS1-dependent targeting of the v-ATPase V0a1 subunit to lysosomes. N-glycosylation of the V0a1 subunit,

  • essential for its efficient ER-to-lysosome delivery,
  • requires the selective binding of PS1 holoprotein to the unglycosylated subunit and the  sec61alpha/ oligosaccharyltransferase complex.

PS1 mutations causing early-onset AD produce a similar lysosomal/autophagy phenotype in fibroblasts from AD patients. PS1 is therefore essential for v-ATPase targeting to lysosomes, lysosome acidification, and proteolysis during autophagy. Defective lysosomal proteolysis represents a basis for pathogenic protein accumulations and neuronal cell death in AD and suggests previously unidentified therapeutic targets.

Hanai JI, Cao P, Tanksale P, Imamura S, et al. The muscle-specific ubiquitin ligase atrogin-1/MAFbx mediates statin-induced muscle toxicity. The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007; 117(12):3930-3951.

Gene Wars Span Eons

Transposons have been barging into genomes and crossing species boundaries throughout evolution. Rapidly evolving bacterial species often use them to transmit antibiotic resistance to one another.  Nearly half of the DNA in the human genome consists of transposons, and the percentage can potentially creep upward with every generation. That’s because nearly 20 percent of transposons are capable of replicating in a way that is unconstrained by the normal rules of DNA replication during cell division ― although through generations over time, most have become inactivated and no longer pose a threat.

While humans are riddled with transposons, compared to some organisms, they’ve gotten off easy, according to Madhani, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF. The water lily’s genome is 99 percent derived from transposons. The lowly salamander has about the same number of genes as humans, but in some species the genome is nearly 40 times bigger, due to all the inserted, replicating transposons.

The scientists’ discovery of SCANR and how it targets transposons in the yeast Cryptococcus neoformans builds upon the Nobel-Prize-winning discovery of jumping genes by maize geneticist Barbara McClintock, and the Nobel-prize-winning discovery by molecular biologists Richard Roberts and Phillip Sharp that parts of a single gene may be separated along chromosomes by intervening bits of DNA, called introns. Introns are transcribed into RNA from DNA but then are spliced out of the instructions for building proteins.

In the current study, the researchers discovered that the cell’s splicing machinery stalls when it gets to transposon introns. SCANR recognizes this glitch and

  • prevents transposon replication by
  • triggering the production of “small interfering RNA” molecules, which
  • neutralize the transposon RNA.

The earlier discovery by biologists Andrew Fire and Craig Mello of the phenomenon of RNA interference, a feature of this newly identified transposon targeting, also led to a Nobel Prize. “Scientists might find that many of the peculiar ways in which genes are expressed differently in higher organisms are, like

  • intron splicing in the case of SCANR, useful
  • in distinguishing and defending ‘self’ genes from ‘non-self’ genes,” Madhani said.

Researchers  at UCSF ( Phillip Dumesic, an MD/PhD student and first author of the study, graduate students Prashanthi Natarajan and Benjamin Schiller, and postdoctoral fellow Changbin Chen, PhD.) and collaborators at the Whitehead Institute of Medical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., contributed to the research.

Researchers Discover Gene Invaders Are Stymied by a Cell’s Genome Defense

If unrestrained, transposons replicate and insert themselves randomly throughout the genome.

San Francisco, CA  (Scicasts) – Gene wars rage inside our cells, with invading DNA regularly threatening to subvert our human blueprint. Now, building on Nobel-Prize-winning findings, UC San Francisco researchers have discovered a molecular machine that helps protect a cell’s genes against these DNA interlopers.

The machine, named SCANR, recognizes and targets foreign DNA. The UCSF team identified it in yeast, but comparable mechanisms might also be found in humans. The targets of SCANR are

  • small stretches of DNA called transposons, a name that conjures images of alien scourges.

But transposons are real, and to some newborns, life threatening. Found inside the genomes

  • of organisms as simple as bacteria and
  • as complex as humans,

they are in a way alien ― at some point,

  • each was imported into its host’s genome from another species.

Unlike an organism’s native genes, which are reproduced a single time during cell division, transposons ― also called jumping genes ― replicate multiple times, and

  • insert themselves at random places within the DNA of the host cell.

When transposons insert themselves in the middle of an important gene, they may cause malfunction, disease or birth defects.

But just as the immune system has ways of distinguishing what is part of the body and what is foreign and does not belong, researchers led by UCSF’s Dr. Hiten Madhani, discovered in

  • SCANR a novel way through which the genetic machinery within a cell’s nucleus recognizes and targets transposons.

“We’ve known that only a fraction of human-inherited diseases are caused by these mobile genetic elements,” Madhani said. “Now we’ve found that cells use a step in gene expression to distinguish ‘self’ from ‘non-self’ and to halt the spread of transposons.” The study was published online Feb. 13 in the journal Cell (

Epigenetics of brain and brawn

Study Shows Epigenetics Shapes Fate of Brain vs. Brawn Castes in Carpenter Ants

Philadelphia, PA (Scicasts) – The recently published genome sequences of seven well-studied ant species are opening up new vistas for biology and medicine.  A detailed look at molecular mechanisms that underlie the complex behavioural differences in two worker castes in the Florida carpenter ant, Camponotus floridanus, has revealed a link to epigenetics. This is the study of how the expression or suppression of particular genes by chemical modifications affects an organism’s

  • physical characteristics,
  • development, and
  • behaviour.

Epigenetic processes not only play a significant role in many diseases, but are also involved in longevity and aging. Interdisciplinary research teams led by Dr. Shelley Berger, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with teams led by Danny Reinberg from New York University and Juergen Liebig from Arizona State University, describe their work in Genome Research. The group found that epigenetic regulation is key to

  • distinguishing one caste, the “majors”, as brawny Amazons of the carpenter ant colony,
  • compared to the “minors”, their smaller, brainier sisters.

These two castes have the same genes, but strikingly distinct behaviours and shape.

Ants, as well as termites and some bees and wasps, are eusocial species that organize themselves into rigid caste-based societies, or colonies, in which only one queen and a small contingent of male ants are usually fertile and reproduce. The rest of a colony is composed of functionally sterile females that are divided into worker castes that perform specialized roles such as

  • foragers,
  • soldiers, and
  • caretakers.

In Camponotus floridanus, there are two worker castes that are physically and behaviourally different, yet genetically very similar.  “For all intents and purposes, those two castes are identical when it comes to their gene sequences,” notes senior author Berger, professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. “The two castes are a perfect situation to understand

  • how epigenetics,
  • how regulation ‘above’ genes,

plays a role in establishing these dramatic differences in a whole organism.”

To understand how caste differences arise, the team examined the role of modifications of histones throughout the genome. They produced the first genome-wide epigenetic maps of genome structure in a social insect. Histones can be altered by the addition of small chemical groups, which affect the expression of genes. Therefore, specific histone modifications can create dramatic differences between genetically similar individuals, such as the physical and behavioural differences between ant castes. “These chemical modifications of histones alter how compact the genome is in a certain region,” Simola explains. “Certain modifications allow DNA to open up more, and some of them to close DNA more. This, in turn, affects how genes get expressed, or turned on, to make proteins.

In examining several different histone modifications, the team found a number of distinct differences between the major and minor castes. Simola states that the most notable modification,

  • discriminates the two castes from each other and
  • correlates well with the expression levels of different genes between the castes.

And if you look at which genes are being expressed between these two castes, these genes correspond very nicely to the brainy versus brawny idea. In the majors we find that genes that are involved in muscle development are expressed at a higher level, whereas in the minors, many genes involved in brain development and neurotransmission are expressed at a higher level.”

These changes in histone modifications between ant castes are likely caused by a regulator gene, called CBP, that has “already been implicated in aspects of learning and behaviour by genetic studies in mice and in certain human diseases,” Berger says. “The idea is that the same CBP regulator and histone modification are involved in a learned behaviour in ants – foraging – mainly in the brainy minor caste, to establish a pattern of gene regulation that leads to neuronal patterning for figuring out where food is and being able to bring the food back to the nest.”  Simola notes that “we know from mouse studies that if you inactivate or delete the CBP regulator, it actually leads to significant learning deficits in addition to craniofacial muscular malformations.  So from mammalian studies, it’s clear this is an important protein involved in learning and memory.”

The research team is looking ahead to expand the work by manipulating the expression of the CBP regulator in ants to observe effects on caste development and behaviour. Berger observes that all of the genes known to be major epigenetic regulators in mammals are conserved in ants, which makes them a  good model for studying behaviour and longevity.

Research Reveals Mechanism of Epigenetic Reprogramming

Cambridge, UK (Scicasts) – New research reveals a potential way for how parents’ experiences could be passed to their offspring’s genes.

Epigenetics is a system that turns our genes on and off. The process works by chemical tags, known as epigenetic marks, attaching to DNA and telling a cell to either use or ignore a particular gene. The most common epigenetic mark is a methyl group.

  • When these groups fasten to DNA through a process called methylation
  • they block the attachment of proteins which normally turn the genes on.

As a result, the gene is turned off.

Scientists have witnessed epigenetic inheritance, the observation that offspring may inherit altered traits due to their parents’ past experiences. For example, historical incidences of famine have resulted in health effects on the children and grandchildren of individuals who had restricted diets,

  • possibly because of inheritance of altered epigenetic marks caused by a restricted diet.

However, it is thought that between each generation

  • the epigenetic marks are erased in cells called primordial gene cells (PGC), the precursors to sperm and eggs.

This ‘reprogramming’ allows all genes to be read afresh for each new person – leaving scientists to question how epigenetic inheritance could occur.

The new Cambridge study initially discovered how the DNA methylation marks are erased in PGCs. The methylation marks are converted to hydroxymethylation which is then

  • progressively diluted out as the cells divide.

This process turns out to be remarkably efficient and seems to reset the genes for each new generation.

The researchers,  also found that some rare methylation can ‘escape’ the reprogramming process and can thus be passed on to offspring – revealing how epigenetic inheritance could occur. This is important because aberrant methylation could accumulate at genes during a lifetime in response to environmental factors, such as chemical exposure or nutrition, and can cause abnormal use of genes, leading to disease. If these marks are then inherited by offspring, their genes could also be affected. The  research demonstrates how genes could retain some memory of their past experiences, indicating that the idea that epigenetic information is erased between generations – should be reassessed.  The precursors to sperm and eggs are very effective in erasing most methylation marks, but they are fallible and at a low frequency may allow some epigenetic information to be transmitted to subsequent generations.

Professor Azim Surani from the University of Cambridge, principal investigator of the research, said: “The new study has the potential to be exploited in two distinct ways.

  1. how to erase aberrant epigenetic marks that may underlie some diseases in adults.
  2. address whether germ cells can acquire new epigenetic marks through environmental or dietary influences on parents that may evade erasure and be transmitted to subsequent generations

The research was published 25 January, in the journal Science. Story adapted from the University of Cambridge.

Study Suggests Expanding the Genetic Alphabet May Be Easier than Previously Thought

Featured In: Academia News | Genomics

Monday, June 4, 2012

A new study led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute suggests that the replication process for DNA—the genetic instructions for living organisms that is composed of four bases (C, G, A and T)—is more open to unnatural letters than had previously been thought. An expanded “DNA alphabet” could carry more information than natural DNA, potentially coding for a much wider range of molecules and enabling a variety of powerful applications, from precise molecular probes and nanomachines to useful new life forms.

The new study, which appears in the June 3, 2012 issue of Nature Chemical Biology, solves the mystery of how a previously identified pair of artificial DNA bases can go through the DNA replication process almost as efficiently as the four natural bases.

“We now know that the efficient replication of our unnatural base pair isn’t a fluke, and also that the replication process is more flexible than had been assumed,” said Floyd E. Romesberg, associate professor at Scripps Research, principal developer of the new DNA bases, and a senior author of the new study. The Romesberg laboratory collaborated on the new study with the laboratory of co-senior author Andreas Marx at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and the laboratory of Tammy J. Dwyer at the University of San Diego.

Adding to the DNA Alphabet

Romesberg and his lab have been trying to find a way to extend the DNA alphabet since the late 1990s. In 2008, they developed the efficiently replicating bases NaM and 5SICS, which come together as a complementary base pair within the DNA helix, much as, in normal DNA, the base adenine (A) pairs with thymine (T), and cytosine (C) pairs with guanine (G).

The following year, Romesberg and colleagues showed that NaM and 5SICS could be efficiently transcribed into RNA in the lab dish. But these bases’ success in mimicking the functionality of natural bases was a bit mysterious. They had been found simply by screening thousands of synthetic nucleotide-like molecules for the ones that were replicated most efficiently. And it had been clear immediately that their chemical structures lack the ability to form the hydrogen bonds that join natural base pairs in DNA. Such bonds had been thought to be an absolute requirement for successful DNA replication‑—a process in which a large enzyme, DNA polymerase, moves along a single, unwrapped DNA strand and stitches together the opposing strand, one complementary base at a time.

An early structural study of a very similar base pair in double-helix DNA added to Romesberg’s concerns. The data strongly suggested that NaM and 5SICS do not even approximate the edge-to-edge geometry of natural base pairs—termed the Watson-Crick geometry, after the co-discoverers of the DNA double-helix. Instead, they join in a looser, overlapping, “intercalated” fashion. “Their pairing resembles a ‘mispair,’ such as two identical bases together, which normally wouldn’t be recognized as a valid base pair by the DNA polymerase,” said Denis Malyshev, a graduate student in Romesberg’s lab who was lead author along with Karin Betz of Marx’s lab.

Yet in test after test, the NaM-5SICS pair was efficiently replicable. “We wondered whether we were somehow tricking the DNA polymerase into recognizing it,” said Romesberg. “I didn’t want to pursue the development of applications until we had a clearer picture of what was going on during replication.”

Edge to Edge

To get that clearer picture, Romesberg and his lab turned to Dwyer’s and Marx’s laboratories, which have expertise in finding the atomic structures of DNA in complex with DNA polymerase. Their structural data showed plainly that the NaM-5SICS pair maintain an abnormal, intercalated structure within double-helix DNA—but remarkably adopt the normal, edge-to-edge, “Watson-Crick” positioning when gripped by the polymerase during the crucial moments of DNA replication.

“The DNA polymerase apparently induces this unnatural base pair to form a structure that’s virtually indistinguishable from that of a natural base pair,” said Malyshev.

NaM and 5SICS, lacking hydrogen bonds, are held together in the DNA double-helix by “hydrophobic” forces, which cause certain molecular structures (like those found in oil) to be repelled by water molecules, and thus to cling together in a watery medium. “It’s very possible that these hydrophobic forces have characteristics that enable the flexibility and thus the replicability of the NaM-5SICS base pair,” said Romesberg. “Certainly if their aberrant structure in the double helix were held together by more rigid covalent bonds, they wouldn’t have been able to pop into the correct structure during DNA replication.”

An Arbitrary Choice?

The finding suggests that NaM-5SICS and potentially other, hydrophobically bound base pairs could some day be used to extend the DNA alphabet. It also hints that Evolution’s choice of the existing four-letter DNA alphabet—on this planet—may have been somewhat arbitrary. “It seems that life could have been based on many other genetic systems,” said Romesberg.

He and his laboratory colleagues are now trying to optimize the basic functionality of NaM and 5SICS, and to show that these new bases can work alongside natural bases in the DNA of a living cell.

“If we can get this new base pair to replicate with high efficiency and fidelity in vivo, we’ll have a semi-synthetic organism,” Romesberg said. “The things that one could do with that are pretty mind blowing.”

The other contributors to the paper, “KlenTaq polymerase replicates unnatural base pairs by inducing a Watson-Crick geometry,” are Thomas Lavergne of the Romesberg lab, Wolfram Welte and Kay Diederichs of the Marx lab, and Phillip Ordoukhanian of the Center for Protein and Nucleic Acid Research at The Scripps Research Institute.

Source: The Scripps Research Institute


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Recurrent somatic mutations in chromatin-remodeling and ubiquitin ligase complex genes in serous endometrial tumors

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

Endometrial cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women worldwide, causing ~74,000 deaths annually1. Serous endometrial cancers are a clinically aggressive subtype with a poorly defined genetic etiology2–4.

Whole-exome sequencing was used to comprehensively search for somatic mutations within ~22,000 protein-encoding genes in 1 13 primary serous endometrial tumors. Subsequently 18 genes were resequenced, which were mutated in more than 1 1 1 tumor and/or were components of an enriched functional grouping, from 40 additional serous tumors. High frequencies of somatic mutations in CHD4 (17%), EP300 (8%), ARID1A (6%), TSPYL2 (6%), FBXW7 (29%), SPOP (8%), MAP3K4 (6%) and ABCC9 (6%) were identified. Overall, 36.5% of serous tumors had a mutated chromatin-remodeling gene, and 35% had a mutated ubiquitin ligase complex gene, implicating frequent mutational disruption of these processes in the molecular pathogenesis of one of the deadliest forms of endometrial cancer.

The study provides new insights into the somatic mutations present in serous endometrial cancer exomes. However, it is important to acknowledge that this discovery screen is underpowered to detect all somatically mutated genes that drive serous tumors. For example, PIK3R1, which was previously found to be somatically mutated in 8% of serous endometrial tumors58, was not somatically mutated in the tumors that formed this discovery screen.

It was estimated that, for genes that are mutated in 8% of all serous endometrial cancers, a discovery screen of 12 tumors has 25% power to detect 2 mutated tumors and 63% power to detect 1 mutated tumor; for genes that are mutated in 20% of all serous endometrial cancers, the discovery screen had an estimated 72.5% power to detect 2 mutated tumors and 93% power to detect 1 mutated tumor.

Massively parallel sequencing of additional cases will undoubtedly yield deeper insights into the mutational landscape of serous endometrial cancer. Here, it was reported one of the first exome sequencing analyses of serous endometrial cancers, which are clinically aggressive tumors that have been poorly characterized genomically.

The findings implicate the disruption of chromatin-remodeling and ubiquitin ligase complex genes in

  • 50% of serous endometrial tumors and
  • 35% of clear-cell endometrial tumors.

The high frequency and specific distributions of mutations in CHD4, FBXW7 and SPOP strongly suggest that these are likely to be driver events in serous endometrial cancer.

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Ubiquinin-Proteosome pathway, autophagy, the mitochondrion, proteolysis and cell apoptosis

Original description - :Cartoon representation...

Original description – :Cartoon representation of ubiquitin protein, highlighting the secondary structure. α-helices are coloured in blue and the β-sheet in green. The normal attachment point for a further ubiquitin molecule in polyubiquitin chain formation, lysine 48, is shown in pink. :Image was created using PyMOL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ubiquinin-Proteosome pathway, autophagy, the mitochondrion, proteolysis and cell apoptosis

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FACP, Curator, Reporter, AEW

The work reviewed follows a seminal contribution by two Israeli and an American molecular biologists who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2004 “for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation” jointly to Aaron Ciechanover Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel, Avram Hershko Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel and Irwin Rose – University of California, Irvine, USA.

Aaron Ciechanover, born 1947 (57 years) in Haifa, Israel (Israeli citizen) received a Doctor’s degree in medicine in 1975 at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and in biology in 1982 at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), Haifa. He is a Distinguished Professor at the Center for Cancer and Vascular Biology, and the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Research Institute at the Technion, Haifa,

Avram Hershko, born 1937 (67 years) in Karcag, Hungary (Israeli citizen) earned the Doctor’s degree in medicine in 1969 at the Hadassah and the Hebrew University Medical School, Jerusalem.  He is a Distinguished Professor at the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in Medical Sciences at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), Haifa, Israel.

Irwin Rose, born 1926 (78 years) in New York, USA (American citizen) achieved a Doctor’s degree in 1952 at the University of Chicago, USA. Specialist at the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, College of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, USA.

Proteins labelled for destruction
Proteins build up all living things: plants, animals and therefore us humans. In the past few decades biochemistry has come a long way towards explaining how the cell produces all its various proteins. But as to the breaking down of proteins, not so many researchers were interested. Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose went against the stream and at the beginning of the 1980s discovered one of the cell’s most important cyclical processes, regulated protein degradation. For this, they are being rewarded
with the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The label consists of a molecule called ubiquitin. This fastens to the protein to be destroyed, accompanies it to the proteasome where it is recognised as the key in a lock, and signals that a protein is on the way for disassembly. Shortly before the protein is squeezed into the proteasome, its ubiquitin label is disconnected for re-use.

Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose have brought us to realise that the cell functions as a highly-efficient checking station where proteins are built up and broken down at a furious rate. The degradation is not indiscriminate but takes place through a process that is controlled in detail so that the proteins to be broken down at any given moment are given a molecular label, a ‘kiss of death’, to be dramatic. The labelled proteins are then fed into the cells’ “waste disposers”, the so called proteasomes, where they are chopped into small pieces and destroyed.

Animation (Plug in requirement: Flash Player 6)

Thanks to the work of the three Laureates it is now possible to understand at  molecular level how the cell controls a number of central processes by breaking down certain proteins and not others. Examples of processes governed by ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation are cell division, DNA repair, quality control of newly-produced proteins, and important parts of the immune defence. When the degradation does not work correctly, we fall ill. Cervical cancer and cystic fibrosis are two examples. Knowledge of
ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation offers an opportunity to develop drugs against these diseases and others.

Aaron Ciechanover and Ronen Ben-Saadon. N-terminal ubiquitination: more protein substrates join in. TRENDS in Cell Biology 2004; 14 (3):103-106.

The ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS) is involved in selective targeting of innumerable cellular proteins through a complex pathway that plays important roles in a broad array of processes. An important step in the proteolytic cascade is specific recognition of the substrate by one of many ubiquitin ligases, E3s, which is followed by generation of the polyubiquitin degradation signal. For most substrates, it is believed that the first ubiquitin moiety is conjugated, through its C-terminal Gly76 residue, to an 1-NH2 group of an internal Lys residue. Recent findings indicate that, for several proteins, the first ubiquitin moiety is fused linearly to the a-NH2 group of the N-terminal residue.

The ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS). Ubiquitin is first activated to a high-energy intermediate by E1. It is then transferred to a member of the E2 family of enzymes. From E2 it can be transferred directly to the substrate (S, red) that is bound specifically to a member of the ubiquitin ligase family of proteins, E3

  • (a). This occurs when the E3 belongs to the RING finger family of ligases. In the case of a HECT-domain-containing ligase
  • (b), the activated ubiquitin is transferred first to the E3 before it is conjugated to the E3-bound substrate . Additional ubiquitin moieties are added successively to the previously conjugated moiety to generate a polyubiquitin chain.
  • The polyubiquitinated substrate binds to the 26S proteasome complex (comprising 19S and 20S sub-complexes): the substrate is degraded to short peptides, and free and reusable ubiquitin is released through the activity of de-ubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs).

Ubiquitination on an internal lysine and on the N-terminal residue of the target substrate.

  • (a) The first ubiquitin moiety is conjugated, through its C-terminal Gly76 residue, to the 1-NH2 group of an internal lysine residue of the target substrate (Kn).
  • (b) The first ubiquitin moiety is conjugated to a free a-NH2 group of the N-terminal residue, X.
  • In both cases, successive addition of activated ubiquitin moieties to internal Lys48 on the previously conjugated ubiquitin moiety leads to the synthesis of a  polyubiquitin chain that serves as the degradation signal for the 26S proteasome


A UPS Autophagy Review

Summary: This discussion is another in a series discussing mitochondrial metabolism, energetics and regulatory function, and dysfunction, and the process leading to apoptosis and a larger effect on disease, with a specific targeting of neurodegeneration. Why neurological and muscle damage are more sensitive than other organs is not explained easily, but recall in the article on mitochondrial oxidation-reduction reactions and repair that there are organ specific differences in the rates of organelle mutation errors and in the rates of repair. In addition, consider the effect of iron-binding in the function of the cell, and Ca2+ binding in the creation of the mechanic work or signal transmission carried out by the neuromuscular system. We target the previously mentioned role of ubiquitin-proteosome, and interaction with autophagy, mitophagy, and disease.

Keywords: autophagy, ubiquitin-proteosome, UPS, protein degradation, defective organelle removal, selective degradation, E3, neurodegenerative disease, mitochondria, mitophagy, proteolysis, ribosomes, apoptosis, Ca++, rapamycin, TORC1, atg1p kinase, ubiqitization, trafficking pathways, unfolded protein response (UPS), p52/sequestrome, IC3, nitrogen starvation, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (Ald6p), Ut1hp, toxisomes, Pex3/14 proteins, Bax, E3 Ligase, TRAP1, TNF-a, NFkB.

Ubiquitin-Proteosome Pathway
Three recent papers, describing three apparently independent biological processes, highlight the role of the ubiquitin-proteasome system as a major, however selective, proteolytic and regulatory pathway. Using specific inhibitors to the proteasome, Rock et al. (1994) demonstrate a role for this protease in the degradation of the major bulk of cellular proteins. They also showed that antigen processing requires the ubiquitin-activating enzyme, El. This indicates that antigen processing is both ubiquitin dependent and proteasome dependent. Furthermore, inhibitors to the proteasome prevent tumor necrosis factor a (TNFa)-induced activation of mature NFKB and its entry into the nucleus. The two studies clearly demonstrate that the ubiquitin-proteasome system is involved not only in complete destruction of its protein substrates, but also in limited proteolysis and posttranslational processing in which biologically active peptides or fragments are generated. In addition, the unstable c-Jut but not the stable v-Jun, is multiubiquitinated and degraded. The escape of the oncogenic v-Jun from ubiquitin-dependent degradation suggests a novel route to malignant transformation. Presented here is a review of the components, mechanisms of action, and cellular physiology of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway.

Experimental evidence implicates the ubiquitin system in the degradation of

  • mitotic cyclins,
  • oncoproteins,
  • the tumor suppressor protein p53,
  • several cell surface receptors,
  • transcriptional regulators, and
  • mutated and damaged proteins.

Some of the proteolytic processes occur throughout the cell cycle, whereas others are tightly programmed and occur following cell cycle-dependent posttranslational modifications of the components involved. Signaling and degradation of other proteins (cell surface receptors, for example) may occur only following structural changes or modification(s) in the target molecule that results from ligand binding. Cell cycle-and modification-dependent degradation, as well the ability of the system to destroy completely or only partially its protein substrates, reflects the complexity involved in regulated intracellular protein degradation.

Enzymes of the System
The reaction occurs in two distinct steps:

  1. signaling of the protein by covalent attachment of multiple ubiquitin molecules and
  2. degradation of the targeted protein with the release of free and reutilizable ubiquitin.

Conjugation of ubiquitin to proteins destined for degradation proceeds, in general, in a three-step mechanism.

  1. Initially, the C-terminal Gly of ubiquitin is activated by ATP to a high energy thiol ester intermediate in a reaction catalyzed by the ubiquitin-activating enzyme, El.
  2. Following activation, E2 (ubiquitin carrier protein or ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme [USC]) transfers ubiquitin from El to the substrate that is bound to a ubiquitin-protein ligase, E3.
  3. Here an isopeptide bond is formed between the activated C-terminal Gly of ubiquitin and an c-NH2 group of a Lys residue of the substrate.

As E3 enzymes specifically synthesized by processive transfer of ubiquitin moieties to Lys-48 of the previous (and already conjugated) ubiquitin molecule. In many cases, E2 transfers activated ubiquitin directly to the protein substrate. Thus, E2 enzymes also play an important role in substrate recognition, although, in most cases, this modification is of the monoubiquitin type.

The Ubiquitin-Mediated Proteolytic Pathway
(1) Activation of ubiquitin by El and E2.
(2) Binding of the protein substrate to E3.
(3) EP dependent but EM independent monoubiquitination.
(4) EP-dependent but EM independent polyubiquitination?
(5) Ed-dependent polyubiquitination.
(6) Degradation of ubiquitin-protein conjugate by the 26s protease.
(7) “Correction” function of C-terminal hydrolase(s).
(6) Release of ubiquitin from terminal proteolytic products by &terminal hydrolase(s).

It is essential for the system that ubiquitin recycles. This function is carried out by ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolases (isopeptidases). In protein degradation, hydrolase(s) is required to release ubiquitin from isopeptide linkage with Lys residues of the protein substrate at the final stage of the proteolytic process. A ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolytic activity is also required to disassemble polyubiquitin chains linked to the protein substrate, following or during the degradative process. A “proofreading” function has been proposed for hydrolases to release free protein from “incorrectly” ubiquitinated proteins. Another possibility is that ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolases are required for trimming polyubitin chains.

Hydrolases are probably required for the processing of biosynthetic precursors of ubiquitin, since most ubiquitin genes are arranged either in linear polyubiquitin arrays or are fused to ribosomal proteins. Yet another hydrolase may be required for the removal of extra amino acid residues that are encoded by certain genes at the C-termini of some polyubiquitin molecules. Ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolases may have other functions as well. High energy El-ubiquitin and E2-ubiquitin thiol esters may react with intracellular nucleophiles (such as glutathione or polyamines). Such reactions may lead to rapid depletion of free ubiquitin unless such side products are rapidly cleaved.

Recognition of Substrates
Short-lived proteins contain a region enriched with Pro, Glu, Ser, and Thr (PEST region). However, it has not been shown that this region indeed serves as a consensus proteolysis targeting signal. An interesting problem involves the evolution of the N-end rule pathway and its physiological roles. Proteins that are derived from processing of polyproteins (Sindbis virus RNA polymerase, for example) may contain destabilizing N-termini and thus are proteolyzed via the N-end rule pathway.

Using a “synthetic lethal” screen, Ota and Varshavsky attempted to isolate a mutant that requires the N-end rule pathway for viability. They characterized an extragenic suppressor of the mutation and found that it encodes a protein with a strong correlation to protein phosphotyrosine phosphatase. The target protein or the connection between dephosphorylation of phosphotyrosine and the N-end rule pathway is still obscure. In an additional study, these researchers have shown that a missense mutation in SLNI, a member of a two-component signal transduction system in yeast, is lethal in the absence, but not in the presence, of the N-end rule pathway. Further studies are required to isolate the target protein and identify the signal transduction pathway.

Two recent studies have shed light on the role of the ubiquitin system and the proteasome in the process. Michalek et al. (1993) have shown that a mutant cell that harbors a thermolabile El cannot present peptides derived from ovalbumin following inactivation of the enzyme. In contrast, presentation of a minigene-expressed antigene peptide or presentation of exogenous similar peptide was not perturbed at the nonpermissive temperature. The important conclusion of the researchers is that the processing of the protein to peptides requires the complete ubiquitin pathway. In a complementary study, Rock et al. (1994) have shown that inhibitors that block the chymotryptic activity of the proteasome also block antigen presentation, most probably by inhibiting proteolysis of the antigen (ovalbumin). Thus, it appears that processing of MHC restricted class I antigens requires both ubiquitination and subsequent degradation by the proteasome. It is likely that the proteasome catalyzes processing of these antigens as part of the 26s protease complex.
Ciechanover A. The Ubiquitin-Proteasome Proteolytic Pathway. Cell 1994; 79:13-21.
Regulation of autophagy
The protein content of the cell is determined by the balance between protein synthesis and protein degradation. At constant intracellular protein concentration, i.e. at steady state, rates of protein synthesis and degradation are equal. Although turnover of protein results in energy dissipation, regulation at the level of protein degradation effectively controls protein levels.
Intracellular proteins to be degraded in the lysosomes can get access to these organelles by the following processes:

  • macroautophagy,
  • microautophagy,
  • crinophagy and selective,
  • chaperonin mediated, direct uptake of proteins.

Overview of the involvement of signal transduction in the regulation of macroautophagic proteolysis by amino acids and cell swelling.

  1. Amino acids (AA) stimulate a protein kinase cascade via a plasma membrane receptor.
  2. Receptor activation results in activation of PtdIns 3-kinase (PI3K), possibly via a heterotrimeric Gái3 protein.
  3. followed by activation of PKC-æ, PKB/Akt, p70S6 kinase (p70S6k) and finally phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6 (S6P).
  4. The GDP-bound form of Gái3 is required for autophagic sequestration, whereas the GTP-bound form is inhibitory.
  5. The constitutively formed phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate (PI3P) is also required for autophagic sequestration. Therefore,

inhibition of PtdIns 3-kinase activity by

  • wortmannin (W),
  • LY294002 (LY) or
  • 3-methyladenine (3MA) prevents autophagic sequestration.

Activation of PKC-æ and PKB/Akt is mediated by the 3,4- and 3,4,5-phosphate forms of phosphatidylinositol (PI3,4P2 and PI3,4,5P3) that are produced upon activation of PtdIns 3-kinase.

As a result of this, the first step of the macroautophagic pathway is

  • inhibited by components of the cascade that are downstream of PtdIns 3-kinase.
  • inhibition of this downstream cascade by rapamycin (RAPA) accelerates autophagic sequestration.
  • cell swelling potentiates the effect of amino acids via a change in the receptor owing to membrane stretch.

Furthermore, the site of action of the different effectors of the cytoskeleton (okadaic acid, cytochalasin, nocodazole, vinblastin and colchicine) are indicated.

  • AVi,
  • initial autophagic vacuole;
  • AVd,
  • mature degradative autophagic vacuole,
  • ER, endoplasmic reticulum.

The rate of proteolysis , an important determinant of the intracellular protein content, and part of its degradation occurs in the lysosomes and is mediated by macroautophagy. In liver, macroautophagy is very active and almost completely accounts for starvation-induced proteolysis. Factors inhibiting this process include

  • amino acids,
  • cell swelling and
  • insulin.

In the mechanisms controlling macroautophagy, protein phosphorylation plays an important role.

  • Activation of a signal transduction pathway, ultimately
  • leading to phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6,
  • accompanies Inhibition of macroautophagy.

Components of this pathway may include

  • a heterotrimeric Gi3-protein,
  • phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and
  • p70S6 kinase.

Selectivity of Autophagy
It has been assumed for a long time that macroautophagy is a non-selective process, in which macromolecules are randomly degraded in the same ratio as they occur in the cytoplasm . However, recent observations strongly suggest that this may not always be the case, and that macroautophagy can be selective. Lysosomal protein degradation can selectively occur via ubiquitin-dependent and -independent pathways. In the perfused liver, although autophagic breakdown of protein and RNA (mainly ribosomal RNA) is sensitive to inhibition by amino acids and insulin, glucagon accelerates proteolysis but has no effect on RNA degradation.

Another example of selective autophagy is the degradation of superfluous peroxisomes in hepatocytes from clofibrate-treated rats. When hepatocytes from these rats, in which the number of peroxisomes is greatly increased, are incubated in the absence of amino acids to ensure maximal flux through the macroautophagic pathway, peroxisomes are degraded at a relative rate that exceeds that of any other component in the liver cell. The accelerated degradation of peroxisomes was sensitive to inhibition by 3-methyladenine, a specific autophagic sequestration inhibitor. Interestingly, the accelerated removal of peroxisomes was prevented by long-chain but not short-chain fatty acids. Since long-chain fatty acids are substrates for peroxisomal â-oxidation, this indicates that these organelles are removed by autophagy when they are functionally redundant.  Our hypothesis is that acylation (palmitoylation?) of a peroxisomal membrane protein protects the peroxisome against autophagic sequestration.

Under normal conditions macroautophagy may be largely unselective and serves, for example, to produce amino acids for gluconeogenesis and the synthesis of essential proteins in starvation. When cell structures are functionally redundant or when they become damaged, the autophagic system is able to recognize this and is able to degrade the structure concerned. As yet, nothing is known about the recognition signals. A possibility is that ubiquitination of membrane proteins is required to mark the structure to be degraded for autophagic sequestration.

Ubiquitin may be involved in macroautophagy
Ubiquitin not only contributes to extralysosomal proteolysis but is also involved in autophagic protein degradation. Thus, in fibroblasts ubiquitin–protein conjugates can be found in the lysosomes, as shown by immunohistochemistry and immunogold electron microscopy. Free ubiquitin can also be found inside lysosomes. Accumulations of ubiquitin–protein conjugates in filamentous, presumably lysosomal, structures are also found in a large number of neurodegenerative diseases. Mallory bodies in the liver of alcoholics also contain ubiquitin–protein conjugates.

This presence of ubiquitin–protein conjugates in filamentous inclusions in neurons and other cells can be caused by a defect in the extralysosomal ubiquitin-dependent proteolytic pathway. However, it is also possible that these filamentous inclusions represent an attempt of the cell to get rid of unwanted material (proteins, organelles) via autophagy. Direct evidence that ubiquitin may be involved in the control of macroautophagy came from experiments with CHO cells with a temperature-sensitive mutation in the ubiquitin-activating enzyme E1. Wild-type cells increased their rate of proteolysis in response to stress (amino acid depletion, increased temperature). This was prevented by the acidotropic agent ammonia or by the autophagic sequestration inhibitor 3-methyladenine, indicating that the accelerated proteolysis occurred by autophagy. In the mutant cells, there was no such increase in proteolysis in response to stress at the restrictive temperature.

Autophagy and carcinogenesis
In cancer development, cell growth is mainly induced by inhibition of protein degradation, since differences in the rate of protein synthesis between tumorigenic cells and their normal counterparts are rather small. A striking example of how reduced autophagic proteolysis can contribute to cell growth can be found in the development of liver carcinogenesis. This decrease in autophagic flux results from a decrease in the rate of autophagic sequestration and is already detectable in the early preneoplastic stage. Autophagic flux is then hardly inhibitable by amino acids nor is it inducible by catabolic stimuli
and declines in the more advanced stage of cancer development to a rate of less than 20% of that seen in normal hepatocytes. The fact that the addition of 3-methyladenine to hepatocytes from normal rats increased hepatocyte viability to the same level as observed for the tumour cells strongly suggests that the fall in autophagic proteolysis contributes to the rapid growth rate of these cells and gives them a selective advantage over the normal hepatocytes.

Underlying control mechanisms for autophagy are gradually being unravelled. It is perhaps not surprising that protein phosphorylation and signal transduction are key elements in these mechanisms. The discovery of an amino acid receptor in the plasma membrane of the hepatocyte with a signal transduction pathway coupled to it may have important repercussions, not only for the control of macroautophagy but also for the control of other pathways.

It remains to be seen whether the details of the mechanisms controlling the process in yeast are similar to those in mammalian cells. For example, it is not known whether amino acids are able to control the process as they do in mammalian cells.

Blommaart EFC, Luiken JJFP, Meijer AJ. Autophagic proteolysis: control and specificity. Histochemical Journal (1997); 29:365–385.
A Novel Type of Selective Autophagy
Eukaryotic cells use autophagy and the ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS) as their major protein degradation pathways. Whereas the UPS is required for the rapid degradation of proteins when fast adaptation is needed, autophagy pathways selectively remove protein aggregates and damaged or excess organelles. However, little is known about the targets and mechanisms that provide specificity to this process. Here we show that mature ribosomes are rapidly degraded by autophagy upon nutrient starvation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Surprisingly, this degradation not only occurs by a nonselective mechanism, but also involves a novel type of selective autophagy, which we term ‘ribophagy’. A genetic screen revealed that selective degradation of ribosomes requires catalytic activity of the Ubp3p/Bre5p ubiquitin protease. Although Ubp3p and Bre5p cells strongly accumulate 60S ribosomal particles upon starvation, they are proficient in starvation sensing and in general trafficking and autophagy pathways. Moreover, ubiquitination of several ribosomal subunits and/or ribosome associated proteins was specifically enriched in Ubp3p cells, suggesting that the regulation of ribophagy by ubiquitination may be direct. Interestingly, Ubp3p cells are sensitive to rapamycin and nutrient starvation, implying that selective degradation of ribosomes is functionally important in vivo. Taken together, our results suggest a link between ubiquitination and the regulated degradation of mature ribosomes by autophagy.
Kraft C, Deplazes A, Sohrmann M,Peter M. Mature ribosomes are selectively degraded upon starvation by an autophagy pathway requiring the Ubp3p/Bre5p ubiquitin protease. Nature Cell Biology 2008; 10(5): 603-609. DOI: 10.1038/ncb1723.

Mitochondrial Failure and Protein Degradation

Progressive mitochondrial failure is tightly associated with the the development of most age-related human diseases including neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

This tight connection results from the double-edged sword of mitochondrial respiration, which is responsible for generating both ATP and ROS, as well as from risks that are inherent to mitochondrial biogenesis. To prevent and treat these diseases, a precise understanding of the mechanisms that maintain functional mitochondria is necessary. Mitochondrial protein quality control is one of the mechanisms that protect mitochondrial integrity, and increasing evidence implicates the cytosolic ubiquitin/proteasome system (UPS) as part of this surveillance network. In this review, we will discuss our current understanding of UPS-dependent mitochondrial protein degradation, its roles in diseases progression, and insights into future studies.

While mitochondria have their own genome, about 99% of the roughly 1000 mitochondrial proteins are encoded in the nuclear genome. Most mitochondrial proteins are therefore

  • synthesized in the cytoplasm,
  • unfolded,
  • transported across one or both mitochondrial membranes,
  • then refolded and/or assembled into complexes (Tatsuta, 2009).

Failure of this complex series of events generates unfolded or misfolded proteins within mitochondria, often disrupting critical functions.

Mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation generates usable cellular energy in the form of ATP, but also produces reactive oxygen species (ROS) . ROS tend to react quickly, so their predominant sites of damage are mitochondrial macromolecules that are localized nearby the source of ROS production.

Exposure to oxidative stress facilitates misfolding and aggregation of these mitochondrial proteins, leading to disassembly of protein complexes and eventual loss of mitochondrial integrity.

The clearance of misfolded and aggregated proteins is constantly needed to maintain functional mitochondria.
There are several systems promoting this turnover.

  1. Mitophagy, a selective mitochondrial autophagy, mediates a bulk removal of damaged mitochondria.
  2. mitochondria intrinsically contain proteases in each of their compartments and these proteases recognize misfolded mitochondrial proteins and mediate their degradation.

Accumulating evidence shows that the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) plays an important role in mitochondrial protein degradation. At various cellular sites, the UPS is involved in protein degradation. With the help of ubiquitin E1–E2–E3 enzyme cascades, target proteins destined for destruction are marked by conjugation of K48-linked poly-ubiquitin chain. This poly-ubiquitinated protein is then targeted to the proteasome for degradation.

Cells treated with proteasome inhibitors exhibit elevated levels of ubiquitinated mitochondrial proteins, suggesting the potentially important roles of the proteasome on mitochondrial protein degradation. Studies have also identified mitochondrial substrates of the UPS.

  • Fzo1, an outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM) protein involved in mitochondrial fusion, is partially dependent on the proteasome for its degradation in yeast.
  • The F box protein Mdm30 mediates ubiquitination of Fzo1 by Skp1-Cullin-F-boxMdm30 ligase, which leads to proteasomal degradation.

The UPS has also been implicated in mitochondrial protein degradation in higher organisms. In mammals,

  • the OMM proteins mitofusin 1 and 2 (Mfn1/2; the mammalian orthologs of Fzo1) and Mcl1 are polyubiquitinated and degraded by the proteasome.
  • VDAC1, Tom20 and Tom70 were also suggested as targets of proteasomal degradation as they are stabilized by proteasome inhibition.
  •  inactivation of the proteasome also induces accumulation of intermembrane space (IMS) proteins and, consistent with this, the proteasome plays a role in degradation of the IMS protein, Endonuclease G.

Turnover of some inner mitochondrial membrane (IMM) proteins is also dependent upon the proteasome. Uncoupling proteins (UCPs) 2 and 3 exhibit an unusually short half-life compared with other IMM proteins, and Brand and colleagues showed that inactivation of the proteasome prevents their turnover in vivo and in a reconstituted in vitro system. Finally, mitochondrial matrix proteins can also be degraded by the proteasome.

Cdc48/p97 is involved in many cellular processes through its role in protein degradation and is targeted to different subcellular sites by adaptor proteins. For example, Cdc48/p97 is recruited to the endoplasmic reticulum with the help of two adaptor proteins, Npl4 and Ufd1. This implies the existence of specific adaptors that recruit Cdc48/p97 to mitochondria. Consistent with this notion, the authors recently identified a mitochondrial adaptor protein for Cdc48, which we named Vms1 (VCP/Cdc48-associated mitochondrial stress responsive 1). Vms1 interacts with Cdc48/p97 and Npl4, but not with Ufd1, which indicates that the Cdc48/p97–Npl4–Ufd1 complex functions in ER protein degradation while the Vms1–Cdc48/p97–Npl4 complex acts in mitochondria. In agreement with this notion, overexpression of Cdc48 or Npl4 rescues the Vms1 mutant phenotype while Ufd1 has no effect.

Normally, Vms1 is cytoplasmic. Upon mitochondrial stress, however, Vms1 recruits Cdc48 and Npl4 to mitochondria. In agreement with the role of Cdc48/p97 in OMM protein degradation, loss of the Vms1 system results in accumulation of ubiquitin-conjugated proteins in purified mitochondria as well as stabilization of Fzo1 under mitochondrial stress conditions. Accumulation of damaged and misfolded mitochondrial proteins disturbs the normal physiology of the mitochondria, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction. As expected, the Vms1 mutants progressively lose mitochondrial respiratory activity, eventually leading to cell death. The VMS1 gene is broadly conserved in eukaryotes, implying an important functional role in a wide range of organisms. The C. elegans Vms1 homolog exhibits a similar pattern of mitochondrial stress responsive translocation and is required for normal lifespan. Additionally, mammalian Vms1 also forms a stable complex with p97. Combining these observations, the authors conclude that Vms1 is a conserved component of the UPS-dependent mitochondrial protein quality control system.

The UPS regulates mitochondrial dynamics and initiation of mitophagy
The UPS regulates mitochondrial dynamics. Major proteins involved in mitochondrial fission or fusion (e.g. Mfn1/2, Drp1 and Fis1) are degraded by the UPS.  MITOL, a mitochondrial E3 ubiquitin ligase, is required for Drp1-dependent mitochondrial fission as depletion or inactivation of MITOL blocks mitochondrial fragmentation. Moreover, knockdown of USP30, an OMM-localized deubiquitinating enzyme, induces an elongated mitochondrial morphology, suggesting a defect in fission. Through this regulatory process, the UPS controls mitochondrial dynamics. Parkin, an E3 ligase involved in mitophagy, utilizes the UPS to enhance mitochondrial fission through degradation of components of the fusion machinery. By facilitating fragmentation of damaged mitochondria, which is essential for initiation of mitophagy, Parkin stimulates mitophagy. The underlying mechanisms linking the UPS to the regulation of mitochondrial dynamics remain unclear.

Accumulation of aberrant proteins and human diseases
In neurodegenerative diseases wherein aberrant pathological proteins accumulate throughout the cell, including sites in mitochondria. Amyloid precursor protein (APP), a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, accumulates within mitochondria and is implicated in blockade of mitochondrial protein import. A, a neurotoxic APP cleavage product, can also facilitate the formation of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP) by binding to mPTP components VDAC1, CypD and ANT, which provokes cell death.
-Synuclein, a protein associated with the development of Parkinson’s disease, is targeted to the IMM where it binds to the mitochondrial respiratory complex I and impairs its function. -Synuclein interferes with mitochondrial dynamics as its unique interaction with the mitochondrial membrane disturbs the fusion process. Finally, in Huntington’s disease, increased association of the mutant huntingtin protein with mitochondria can impair mitochondrial trafficking. Moreover, accumulation of mutant huntingtin protein disrupts cristae structure and it facilitates mitochondrial fragmentation by activation of Drp1. These examples demonstrate the crucial importance of prompt removal of dysfunctional and/or aberrant proteins in maintaining functional mitochondria.

UPS-mediated mitochondrial protein degradation.
Misfolded and/or damaged mitochondrial proteins destined for proteasomal degradation in the cytosol are recruited to the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM) from each mitochondrial compartment by unknown mechanisms. Upon reaching the OMM, these proteins are presented to the proteasome through a series of events. They are K48 polyubiquitinated by the cytoplasmic (e.g. Parkin) or mitochondrial ubiquitin E3 ligases. For proteasomal degradation, polyubiquitinated mitochondrial substrate proteins need to be retrotranslocated to the cytoplasm, probably, either by the proteasome per se or by the help of UPS components such as Vms1, Cdc48/p97 and Npl4. Following dislocation to the cytoplasm, these substrate proteins are degraded by the proteasome.

Treatment of diseases that arise from defects in protein quality control will depend on greater depth in our understanding of this process, which could contribute to the development of novel therapeutic approaches. For instance, both mutant SOD1, a misfolded mitochondrial protein associated with the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and polyglutamine expanded ataxin-3, a pathogenic protein causing Machado-Joseph disease, are ubiquitinated by MITOL and then degraded by the proteasome. Facilitating the proteasomal degradation of these aberrant proteins might therefore efficiently control diseases progression and, eventually, cure the diseases. Answering these questions would partially unveil the mysterious physiology of mitochondria, which, in turn, would facilitate the development of therapeutics to prevent and cure devastating human diseases.

Heo JM, Rutter J. Ubiquitin-dependent mitochondrial protein degradation. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 2011; 43:1422– 1426.
UPS Inhibitors and Apoptotic Machinery
Over the past decade, the promising results of UPSIs (UPS inhibitors) in eliciting apoptosis in various cancer cells, and the approval of the first UPSI (Bortezomib/Velcade/PS-341) for the treatment of multiple myeloma have raised interest in assessing the death program activated upon proteasomal blockage. Several reports indicate that UPSIs stimulate apoptosis in malignant cells by operating at multiple levels, possibly by inducing different types of cellular stress. Normally cellular stress signals converge on the core elements of the apoptotic machinery to trigger the cellular demise. In addition to eliciting multiple stresses, UPSIs can directly operate on the core elements of the apoptotic machinery to control their abundance. Alterations in the relative levels of anti and pro-apoptotic factors can render cancer cells more prone to die in response to other anti-cancer treatments. Aim of the present review is to discuss those core elements of the apoptotic machinery that are under the control of the UPS.

The UPS (Ubquitin-Proteasome System)
To fulfill the protein-degradation process two branches, operating at different levels, principally comprise the UPS.

  • The first branch is formed by the enzymatic activities responsible for delivering the substrate to the degradative machinery: the targeting branch.
  • The second branch is represented by the proteolytic machinery, which ultimately fragments the protein substrate into small oligopeptides.

Oligopeptides are further digested to single amino acids by cytosolic proteases.
It is important to remember that conjugation of ubiquitin to a specific protein is not sufficient to determine its degradation. In fact, mono-ubiquitination or poly-monoubiquitination and in certain cases also poly-ubiquitination of proteins are post-translational modifications related to various cellular functions including DNA repair or membrane trafficking . To deliver polypeptides for proteasomal degradation poly-ubiquitin chains of more than 4 ubiquitins must be assembled through lysine-48 linkages.

There are 3 catalytic sites for each polyubiquitin chain. These sites show specific requirements in terms of substrate specificities and catalytic activities, and they are identified as

  1. trypsin-like, which prefer to cleave after hydrophobic bonds, chymotrypsin-like, which cleave at basic residues and
  2. postglutamyl peptide hydrolase-like or
  3. caspase-like activities, which cut after acidic amino acid.

Each proteasome active site uses the side chain hydroxyl group of an NH2-terminal threonine as the catalytic nucleophile, a mechanism that distinguishes the proteasome from other cellular proteases. The presence of substrate proteolysis small size peptides ranging from 3 to 22 residues are generated. Alternative catalytic sites guarantees the efficient processing of several different substrates.

UPS Inhibitors
By UPS inhibitors (UPSI) we mean small molecules that share the ability to target and inhibit specific activities of the UPS, causing the accumulation of poly-ubiquitinated proteosomal substrates. UPSIs are heterogeneous compounds and among them bortezomib is the only one used in clinical practice.

PR-171, a modified peptide related to the natural product epoxomicin, is composed of two key elements:

  1. a peptide portion that selectively binds with high affinity in the substrate binding pocket(s) of the proteasome and
  2. an epoxyketone pharmacophore that stereospecifically interacts with the catalytic threonine residue and irreversibly inhibits enzyme activity.

In comparison to bortezomib, PR-171 exhibits equal potency, but greater selectivity, for the chymotrypsin-like activity of the proteasome. In cell culture PR-171 is more cytotoxic than bortezomib. In mice PR-171 is well tolerated and shows stronger anti-tumor activity when compared with bortezomib . Clinical studies are in progress to test the safety of PR-171 at different dose levels on some hematological cancers.

Cell Death by UPSI
In vitro experiments have unambiguously established that incubation of neoplastic cells with UPSIs including bortezomib triggers their death. Apoptosis or type I cell death relies on the timed activation of caspases, a group of cysteine proteases, which cleave selected cellular substrates after aspartic residues. Two main apoptotic pathways keep in check caspase activation.

The turnover of a large number of cellular proteins is under the control of the UPS. Thus in principle any proteosomal substrate could contribute directly or indirectly to the cell death phenotype. This is perfectly exemplified by two master regulators of cell life and death, p53 and NFkB.  UPSIs cause

  • NF-kB inhibition through reduced IkB degradation and,
  • in opposition; they promote stabilization and accumulation of p53.

c-FLIP is the most important element of the extrinsic pathway under the direct control of the UPS. Two different FLIP isoforms exist:

  1. c-FLIPL (Long) and
  2. c-FLIPS (Short).

c-FLIPL is highly homologus to caspase-8 and contains two tandem repeat Death Effector Domains (DED) and a catalytically inactive caspase-like domain. Both FLIPs can be degraded by the UPS; however they display distinct half-lives and the unique C terminus of c-FLIPS possesses a destabilizing function. The regulation of c-FLIP levels in response to UPSIs is rather controversial. Some reports indicate that UPSIs can reduce c-FLIP levels and in this manner synergize with TRAIL to promote apoptosis.

UPSIs activate multiple cellular responses and different stress signals that ultimately cause cell death. For this reason they represent broad inducers of apoptosis. In addition, since many of the available UPSIs alter the proteolytic activity of the proteasome, they represent non-specific modulators of the expression/activity of various components of the apoptotic machinery. Paradoxically they can simultaneously favor the accumulation of pro- and anti-apoptotic factors.
Brancolini C. Inhibitors of the Ubiquitin-Proteasome System and the Cell Death Machinery: How Many Pathways are Activated? Current Molecular Pharmacology, 2008; 1:24-37.

Mitochondrial Quality Control
The PINK1–Parkin pathway plays a critical role in mitochondrial quality control by selectively targeting damaged mitochondria for autophagy. The AAA-type ATPase p97 acts downstream of PINK1 and Parkin to segregate fusion-incompetent mitochondria for turnover. [Tanaka et al. (2010. J. Cell Biol. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201007013)]. p97 acts by targeting the mitochondrial fusion-promoting factor mitofusin for degradation through an endoplasmic reticulum–associated degradation (ERAD)-like mechanism.

Pallanck LJ. Culling sick mitochondria from the herd. J Cell Biol 2012;191(7):1225–1227.

PINK1 and Parkin and Parkinson’s Disease

Studies of the familial Parkinson disease-related proteins PINK1 and Parkin have demonstrated that these factors promote the fragmentation and turnover of mitochondria following treatment of cultured cells with mitochondrial depolarizing agents. Whether PINK1 or Parkin influence mitochondrial quality control under normal physiological conditions in dopaminergic neurons, a principal cell type that degenerates in Parkinson disease, remains unclear. To address this matter, we developed a method to purify and characterize neural subtypes of interest from the adult Drosophila brain.

Using this method, we find that dopaminergic neurons from Drosophila parkin mutants accumulate enlarged, depolarized mitochondria, and that genetic perturbations that promote mitochondrial fragmentation and turnover rescue the mitochondrial depolarization and neurodegenerative phenotypes of parkin mutants. In contrast, cholinergic neurons from parkin mutants accumulate enlarged depolarized mitochondria to a lesser extent than dopaminergic neurons, suggesting that a higher rate of mitochondrial damage, or a deficiency in alternative mechanisms to repair or eliminate damaged mitochondria explains the selective vulnerability of dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson disease.

Our study validates key tenets of the model that PINK1 and Parkin promote the fragmentation and turnover of depolarized mitochondria in dopaminergic neurons. Moreover, our neural purification method provides a foundation to further explore the pathogenesis of Parkinson disease, and to address other neurobiological questions requiring the analysis of defined neural cell types.

Burmana JL, Yua S, Poole AC, Decala RB , Pallanck L. Analysis of neural subtypes reveals selective mitochondrial dysfunction in dopaminergic neurons from parkin mutants.

Autophagy in Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disease in the elderly. To explore the specific role of autophagy and the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in apoptosis, a specific proteasome inhibitor and macroautophagy inhibitor and stimulator were selected to investigate pheochromocytoma (PC12) cell lines transfected with human mutant (A30P) and wildtype (WT) -synuclein.

The apoptosis ratio was assessed by flow cytometry. LC3, heat shock protein 70 (hsp70) and caspase-3 expression in cell culture were determined by Western blot. The hallmarks of apoptosis and autophagy were assessed with transmission electron microscopy. Compared to the control group or the rapamycin (autophagy stimulator) group, the apoptosis ratio in A30P and WT cells was significantly higher after treatment with inhibitors of the proteasome and macroautophagy. The results of Western blots for caspase-3 expression were similar to those of flow cytometry; hsp70 protein was significantly higher in the proteasome inhibitor group than in control, but in the autophagy inhibitor and stimulator groups, hsp70 was similar to control. These findings show that inhibition of the proteasome and autophagy promotes apoptosis, and the macroautophagy stimulator rapamycin reduces the apoptosis ratio. And inhibiting or stimulating autophagy has less impact on hsp70 than the proteasome pathway.

In conclusion, either stimulation or inhibition of macroautophagy, has less impact on hsp70 than on the proteasome pathway. This study found that rapamycin decreased apoptotic cells in A30P cells independent of caspase-3 activity. Although several lines of evidence recently demonstrated crosstalk between autophagy and caspase-independent apoptosis, we could not confirm that autophagy activation protects cells from caspase-independent cell death. Undoubtedly, there are multiple connections between the apoptotic and autophagic processes.

Inhibition of autophagy may subvert the capacity of cells to remove damaged organelles or to remove misfolded proteins, which would favor apoptosis. However, proteasome inhibition activated macroautophagy and accelerated apoptosis. A likely explanation is inhibition of the proteasome favors oxidative reactions that trigger apoptosis, presumably through

1. a direct effect on mitochondria, and
2. the absence of NADPH2 and ATP

which may deinhibit the activation of caspase-2 or MOMP. Another possibility is that aggregated proteins induced by proteasome inhibition increase apoptosis.

Yang F, Yanga YP, Maoa CJ, Caoa BY, et al. Role of autophagy and proteasome degradation pathways in apoptosis of PC12 cells overexpressing human -synuclein. Neuroscience Letters 2009; 454:203–208. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.027.

Parkin-dependent Ubiquitination of Endogenous Bax 

Autosomal recessive loss-of-function mutations within the PARK2 gene functionally inactivate the E3 ubiquitin ligase parkin, resulting in neurodegeneration of catecholaminergic neurons and a familial form of Parkinson disease. Current evidence suggests both a mitochondrial function for parkin and a neuroprotective role, which may in fact be interrelated. The antiapoptotic effects of Parkin have been widely reported, and may involve fundamental changes in the threshold for apoptotic cytochrome c release, but the substrate(s) involved in Parkin dependent protection had not been identified. Here, we demonstrate the Parkin-dependent ubiquitination of endogenous Bax comparing primary cultured neurons from WT and Parkin KO mice and using multiple Parkin-overexpressing cell culture systems. The direct ubiquitination of purified Bax was also observed in vitro following incubation with recombinant parkin. The authors found that Parkin prevented basal and apoptotic stress induced translocation of Bax to the mitochondria. Moreover, an engineered ubiquitination-resistant form of Bax retained its apoptotic function, but Bax KO cells complemented with lysine-mutant Bax did not manifest the antiapoptotic effects of Parkin that were observed in cells expressing WT Bax. These data suggest that Bax is the primary substrate responsible for the antiapoptotic effects of Parkin, and provide mechanistic insight into at least a subset of the mitochondrial effects of Parkin.

Johnson BN, Berger AK, Cortese GP, and LaVoie MJ. The ubiquitin E3 ligase Parkin regulates the proapoptotic function of Bax. PNAS 2012, pp 6.
Parkin Promotes Mitochondrial Loss in Autophagy
Parkin, an E3 ubiquitin ligase implicated in Parkinson’s disease, promotes degradation of dysfunctional mitochondria by autophagy. Using proteomic and cellular approaches, we show that upon translocation to mitochondria, Parkin activates the ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS) for widespread degradation of outer membrane proteins. This is evidenced by an increase in K48-linked polyubiquitin on mitochondria, recruitment of the 26S proteasome and rapid degradation of multiple outer membrane proteins. The degradation of proteins by the UPS occurs independently of the autophagy pathway, and inhibition of the 26S proteasome completely abrogates Parkin-mediated mitophagy in HeLa, SH-SY5Y and mouse cells. Although the mitofusins Mfn1 and Mfn2 are rapid degradation targets of Parkin, degradation of additional targets is essential for mitophagy. These results indicate that remodeling of the mitochondrial outer membrane proteome is important for mitophagy, and reveal a causal link between the UPS and autophagy, the major pathways for degradation of intracellular substrates.

Chan NC, Salazar AM, Pham AH, Sweredoski MJ, et al. Broad activation of the ubiquitin–proteasome system by Parkin is critical for mitophagy. Human Molecular Genetics 2011; 20(9): 1726–1737. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddr048.

TRAP1 and TBP7 Interaction in Refolding of Damaged Proteins
TRAP1 is a mitochondrial antiapoptotic heat shock protein. The information available on the TRAP1 pathway describes just a few well-characterized functions of this protein in mitochondria. However, our group’s use of mass spectrometry analysis identified TBP7, an AAA-ATPase of the 19S proteasomal subunit, as a putative TRAP1-interacting protein. Surprisingly, TRAP1 and TBP7 co-localize in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), as demonstrated by biochemical and confocal/electron microscopy analyses, and directly interact, as confirmed by FRET analysis. This is the first demonstration of TRAP1 presence in this cellular compartment. TRAP1 silencing by shRNAs, in cells exposed to thapsigargin-induced ER stress, correlates with up-regulation of BiP/Grp78, thus suggesting a role of TRAP1 in the refolding of damaged proteins and in ER stress protection. Consistently, TRAP1 and/or TBP7 interference enhanced stress-induced cell death and increased intracellular protein ubiquitination. These experiments led us to hypothesize an involvement of TRAP1 in protein quality control for mistargeted/misfolded mitochondria-destined proteins, through interaction with the regulatory proteasome protein TBP7. Remarkably, the expression of specific mitochondrial proteins decreased upon TRAP1 interference as a consequence of increased ubiquitination. The proposed TRAP1 network has an impact in vivo, since it is conserved in human colorectal cancers, is controlled by ER-localized TRAP1 interacting with TBP7 and provides a novel model of ER-mitochondria crosstalk.


VMS1 and Mitochondrial Protein Degradation
We show that Ydr049 (renamed VCP/Cdc48-associated mitochondrial stress-responsive—Vms1), a member of an unstudied pan-eukaryotic protein family, translocates from the cytosol to mitochondria upon mitochondrial stress. Cells lacking Vms1 show progressive mitochondrial failure, hypersensitivity to oxidative stress, and decreased chronological life span. Both yeast and mammalian Vms1 stably interact with Cdc48/VCP/p97, a component of the ubiquitin/proteasome system with a well-defined role in endoplasmic reticulum-associated protein degradation (ERAD), wherein misfolded ER proteins are degraded in the cytosol. We show that oxidative stress triggers mitochondrial localization of Cdc48 and this is dependent on Vms1. When this system is impaired by mutation of Vms1,

  • ubiquitin-dependent mitochondrial protein degradation,
  • mitochondrial respiratory function,and
  • cell viability are compromised.

We demonstrate that Vms1 is a required component of an evolutionarily conserved system for mitochondrial protein degradation, which is
necessary to maintain

  • mitochondrial,
  • cellular, and
  • organismal viability.

Heo JM, Livnat-Levanon N, Taylor EB, Jones KT. A Stress-Responsive System
for Mitochondrial Protein Degradation. Molecular Cell 2010; 40:465–480.
DOI 10.1016/j.molcel.2010.10.021

Mitochondrial Protein Degradation
The biogenesis of mitochondria and the maintenance of mitochondrial functions depends on an autonomous proteolytic system in the organelle which is highly conserved throughout evolution. Components of this system include processing

  • peptidases and
  • ATP-dependent proteases, as well as
  • molecular chaperone proteins and
  • protein complexes with apparently regulatory functions.

While processing peptidases mediate maturation of nuclear-encoded mitochondrial preproteins, quality control within various subcompartments of mitochondria is ensured by ATP-dependent proteases which selectively remove non-assembled or misfolded polypeptides. Moreover, these proteases appear to control the activity- or steady-state levels of specific regulatory proteins and thereby ensure mitochondrial genome integrity, gene expression and protein assembly.

Kaser M and Langer T. Protein degradation in mitochondria. CELL & DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY 2000; 11:181–190. doi: 10.1006/10.1006/scdb.2000.0166.

RING finger E3s

Ubiquitin-ligases or E3s are components of the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) that coordinate the transfer of ubiquitin to the target protein. A major class of ubiquitin-ligases consists of RING-finger domain proteins that include the substrate recognition sequences in the same polypeptide; these are known as single-subunit RING finger E3s. We are studying a particular family of RING finger E3s, named ATL, that contain a transmembrane domain and the RING-H2 finger domain; none of the member of the family contains any other previously described domain. Although the study of a few members in A. thaliana and O. sativa has been reported, the role of this family in the life cycle of a plant is still vague.

To provide tools to advance on the functional analysis of this family we have undertaken a phylogenetic analysis of ATLs in twenty-four plant genomes. ATLs were found in all the 24 plant species analyzed, in numbers ranging from 20–28 in two basal species to 162 in soybean. Analysis of ATLs arrayed in tandem indicates that sets of genes are expanding in a species-specific manner. To
get insights into the domain architecture of ATLs we generated 75 pHMM LOGOs from 1815 ATLs, and unraveled potential protein-protein interaction regions by means of yeast two-hybrid assays. Several ATLs were found to interact with DSK2a/ubiquilin through a region at the amino-terminal end, suggesting that this is a widespread interaction that may assist in the mode of action of ATLs; the region was traced to a distinct sequence LOGO. Our analysis provides significant observations on the evolution and expansion of the ATL family in addition to information on the domain structure of this class of ubiquitin-ligases that may be involved in plant adaptation to environmental stress.

Aguilar-Hernandez V, Aguilar-Henonin L, Guzman P. Diversity in the Architecture of ATLs, a Family of Plant Ubiquitin-Ligases, Leads to Recognition and Targeting of Substrates in Different Cellular Environments. PLoS ONE 2011; 6(8): e23934. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023934
UPS Proteolytic Function Inadequate in Proteinopathies
Proteinopathies are a family of human disease caused by toxic aggregation-prone proteins and featured by the presence of protein aggregates in the affected cells. The ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) and autophagy are two major intracellular protein degradation pathways. The UPS mediates the targeted degradation of most normal proteins after performing their normal functions as well as the removal of abnormal, soluble proteins. Autophagy is mainly responsible for degradation of defective organelles and the bulk degradation of cytoplasm during starvation. The collaboration between the UPS and autophagy appears to be essential to protein quality control in the cell.

UPS proteolytic function often becomes inadequate in proteinopathies which may lead to activation of autophagy, striving to remove abnormal proteins especially the aggregated forms. HADC6, p62, and FoxO3 may play an important role in mobilizing this proteolytic consortium. Benign measures to enhance proteasome function are currently lacking; however, enhancement of autophagy via pharmacological intervention and/or lifestyle change has shown great promise in alleviating bona fide proteinopathies in the cell and animal models. These pharmacological interventions are expected to be applied clinically to treat human proteinopathies in the near future.

Zheng Q, Li J, Wang X. Interplay between the ubiquitin-proteasome system and
autophagy in proteinopathies. Int J Physiol Pathophysiol Pharmacol 2009;1:127-142.

Ubiquitin-associated Protein-Protein Interactions

Applicability of in vitro biotinylated ubiquitin for evaluation of endogenous ubiquitin conjugation and analysis of ubiquitin-associated protein-protein interactions has been investigated. Incubation of rat brain mitochondria with biotinylated ubiquitin followed by affinity chromatography on avidin-agarose, intensive washing, tryptic digestion of proteins bound to the affinity sorbent and their mass spectrometry analysis resulted in reliable identification of 50 proteins belonging to mitochondrial and extramitochondrial compartments. Since all these proteins were bound to avidin-agarose only after preincubation of the mitochondrial fraction with biotinylated ubiquitin, they could therefore be referred to as specifically bound proteins. A search for specific
ubiquitination signature masses revealed several extramitochondrial and intramitochondrial ubiquitinated proteins representing about 20% of total number of proteins bound to avidin-agarose. The interactome analysis suggests that the identified non-ubiquitinated proteins obviously form tight complexes either with ubiquitinated proteins or with their partners and/or mitochondrial membrane components. Results of the present study demonstrate that the use of biotinylated ubiquitin may be considered as the method of choice for in vitro evaluation of endogenous ubiquitin-conjugating machinery in particular
subcellular organelles and changes in ubiquitin/organelle associated interactomes. This may be useful for evaluation of changes in interactomes induced by protein ubiquitination.

Buneeva OA, Medvedeva MV, Kopylov AT, Zgoda VG, Medvedev AE. Use of Biotinylated Ubiquitin for Analysis of Rat Brain Mitochondrial Proteome and Interactome. Int J Mol Sci 2012; 13: 11593-11609; doi:10.3390/ijms130911593
IL-6 regulation on mitochondrial remodeling/dysfunction

Muscle protein turnover regulation during cancer cachexia is being rapidly defined, and skeletal muscle mitochondria function appears coupled to processes regulating muscle wasting. Skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and the expression of proteins regulating mitochondrial biogenesis and dynamics are disrupted in severely cachectic ApcMin/+ mice. It has not been determined if these changes occur at the onset of cachexia and are necessary for the progression of muscle wasting. Exercise and anti-cytokine therapies have proven effective in preventing cachexia development in tumor bearing mice, while their effect on mitochondrial content, biogenesis and dynamics is not well understood.

The purposes of this study were to

1) determine IL-6 regulation on mitochondrial remodeling/dysfunction during the progression of cancer cachexia and
2) to determine if exercise training can attenuate mitochondrial dysfunction and the induction of proteolytic pathways during IL-6 induced cancer cachexia.

ApcMin/+ mice were examined during the progression of cachexia, after systemic interleukin (IL)-6r antibody treatment, or after IL-6 over-expression with or without exercise. Direct effects of IL-6 on mitochondrial remodeling were examined in cultured C2C12 myoblasts.

Mitochondrial content was not reduced during the initial development of cachexia, while muscle PGC-1α and fusion (Mfn1, Mfn2) protein expression was repressed.

With progressive weight loss mitochondrial content decreased, PGC-1α and fusion proteins were further suppressed, and fission protein (FIS1) was induced.

IL-6 receptor antibody administration after the onset of cachexia

  • improved mitochondrial content,
  • PGC-1α,
  • Mfn1/Mfn2 and
  • FIS1 protein expression.

IL-6 over-expression in pre-cachectic mice

  • accelerated body weight loss and muscle wasting, without reducing mitochondrial content,
  • while PGC-1α and Mfn1/Mfn2 protein expression was suppressed
  • and FIS1 protein expression induced.

Exercise normalized these IL-6 induced effects. C2C12 myotubes administered IL-6 had

  • increased FIS1 protein expression,
  • increased oxidative stress, and
  • reduced PGC-1α gene expression
  • without altered mitochondrial protein expression.

Altered expression of proteins regulating mitochondrial biogenesis and fusion are early events in the initiation of cachexia regulated by IL-6, which precede the loss of muscle mitochondrial content. Furthermore, IL-6 induced mitochondrial remodeling and proteolysis can be rescued with moderate exercise training even in the presence of high circulating IL-6 levels.

White JP, Puppa MJ, Sato S, Gao S. IL-6 regulation on skeletal muscle mitochondrial remodeling during cancer cachexia in the ApcMin/+ mouse. Skeletal Muscle 2012; 2:14-30.

Starvation-induced Autophagy
Upon starvation cells undergo autophagy, a cellular degradation pathway important in the turnover of whole organelles and long lived proteins. Starvation-induced protein degradation has been regarded as an unspecific bulk degradation process. We studied global protein dynamics during amino acid starvation-induced autophagy by quantitative mass spectrometry and were able to record nearly 1500 protein profiles during 36 h of starvation. Cluster analysis of the recorded protein profiles revealed that cytosolic proteins were degraded rapidly, whereas proteins annotated to various complexes and organelles were degraded later at different time periods. Inhibition of protein degradation pathways identified the lysosomal/autophagosomal system as the main degradative route.

Thus, starvation induces degradation via autophagy, which appears to be selective and to degrade proteins in an ordered fashion and not completely arbitrarily as anticipated so far.

Kristensen AR, Schandorff S, Høyer-Hansen M, Nielsen MO, et al. Ordered Organelle Degradation during Starvation-induced Autophagy. Molecular & Cellular Proteomics 2008; 7:2419–2428.

Skeletal Muscle Macroautophagy
Skeletal muscles are the agent of motion and one of the most important tissues responsible for the control of metabolism. Coordinated movements are allowed by the highly organized structure of the cytosol of muscle fibers (or myofibers), the multinucleated and highly specialized cells of skeletal muscles involved in contraction. Contractile proteins are assembled into repetitive structures, the basal unit of which is the sarcomere, that are well packed into the myofiber cytosol. Myonuclei are located at the edge of the myofibers, whereas the various organelles such as mitochondria and sarcoplasmic reticulum are embedded among the myofibrils. Many different changes take place in the cytosol of myofibers during catabolic conditions:

  • proteins are mobilized
  • organelles networks are reorganized for energy needs
  • the setting of myonuclei can be modified.


  • strenuous physical activity,
  • improper dietary regimens and
  • aging

lead to mechanical and metabolic damages of myofiber organelles, especially mitochondria, and contractile proteins. During aging the protein turnover is slowed down, therefore it is easier to accumulate aggregates of dysfunctional proteins. Therefore, a highly dynamic tissue such as skeletal muscle requires a rapid and efficient system for the removal of altered organelles, the elimination of protein aggregates, and the disposal of toxic products.

The two major proteolytic systems in muscle are the ubiquitin-proteasome and the autophagy-lysosome pathways. The proteasome system requires

  • the transcription of the two ubiquitin ligases (atrogin-1 and MuRF1) and
  • the ubiquitination of the substrates.

Therefore, the ubiquitin-proteasome system can provide the rapid elimination of single proteins or small aggregates. Conversely, the autophagic system is able to degrade entire organelles and large proteins aggregates. In the autophagy-lysosome system, double-membrane vesicles named autophagosomes are able to engulf a portion of the cytosol and fuse with lysosomes, where their content is completely degraded by lytic enzymes.

The autophagy flux can be biochemicaly monitored following LC3 lipidation and p62 degradation. LC3 is the mammalian homolog of the yeast Atg8 gene, which is lipidated when recruited for the double-membrane commitment and growth. p62 (SQSTM-1) is a polyubiquitin-binding protein involved in the proteasome system and that can either reside free in the cytosol and nucleus or occur within autophagosomes and lysosomes. The GFP-LC3 transgenic mouse model allows easy detection of autophagosomes by simply monitoring the presence of bright GFP-positive puncta inside the myofibrils and beneath the plasma membrane of the myofibers, thus investigate the activation of autophagy in skeletal muscles with different contents of slow and fast-twitching myofibers and in response to stimuli such as fasting. For example, in the fast-twiching extensor digitorum longus muscle few GFP-LC3 dots were observed before starvation, while many small GFP-LC3 puncta appeared between myofibrils and in the perinuclear regions after 24 h starvation. Conversely, in the slow-twitching soleus muscle, autophagic puncta were almost absent in standard condition and scarcely induced after 24 h starvation.
Autophagy in Muscle Homeostasis
The autophagic flux was found to be increased during certain catabolic conditions, such as fasting, atrophy , and denervation , thus contributing to protein breakdown. Food deprivation is one of the strongest stimuli known to induce autophagy in muscle. Indeed skeletal muscle, after the liver, is the most responsive tissue to autophagy activation during food deprivation. Since muscles are the biggest reserve of amino acids in the body, during fasting autophagy has the vital role to maintain the amino acid pool by digesting muscular protein and organelles. In mammalian cells, mTORC1, which consists of

  • mTOR and
  • Raptor,

is the nutrient sensor that negatively regulates autophagy.

During atrophy, protein breakdown is mediated by atrogenes, which are under the forkhead box O (FoxO) transcription factors control, and activation of autophagy seems to aggravate muscle loss during atrophy. In vivo and in vitro studies demonstrated that several genes coding for components of the autophagic machinery, such as

  • LC3,
  • Vps34,
  • Atg12 and
  • Bnip3,

are controlled by FoxO3 transcription factor. FoxO3 is able to regulate independently the ubiquitin-proteasome system and the autophagy-lysosome machinery in vivo and in vitro. Denervation is also able to induce autophagy in skeletal muscle, although at a slower rate than fasting. This effect is mediated by RUNX1, a transcription factor upregulated during autophagy; the lack of RUNX1 results in excessive autophagic flux in denervated muscle and leads to atrophy. The generation of Atg5 and Atg7 muscle-specific knockout mice have shown that with suppression of autophagy both models display muscle weakness and atrophy and a significant reduction of weight, which is correlated with the important loss of muscle tissue due to an atrophic condition. An unbalanced autophagy flux is highly detrimental for muscle, as too much induces atrophy whereas too little leads to muscle weakness and degeneration. Muscle wasting associated with autophagy inhibition becomes evident and symptomatic only after a number of altered proteins and dysfunctional organelles are accumulated, a condition that becomes evident after months or even years. On the other hand, the excessive increase of autophagy flux is able to induce a rapid loss of muscle mass (within days or weeks).
Alterations of autophagy are involved in the pathogenesis of several myopathies and dystrophies.

The maintenance of muscle homeostasis is finely regulated by the balance between catabolic and anabolic process. Macroautophagy (or autophagy) is a catabolic process that provides the degradation of protein aggregation and damaged organelles through the fusion between autophagosomes and lysosomes. Proper regulation of the autophagy flux is fundamental for the homeostasis of skeletal muscles during physiological situations and in response to stress. Defective as well as excessive autophagy is harmful for muscle health and has a pathogenic role in several forms of muscle diseases.
Grumati P, Bonaldo P. Autophagy in Skeletal Muscle Homeostasis and in Muscular Dystrophies. Cells 2012, 1, 325-345; doi:10.3390/cells1030325. ISSN 2073-4409.

Parkinson’s Disease Mutations
Mutations in parkin, a ubiquitin ligase, cause early-onset familial Parkinson’s disease (AR-JP). How Parkin suppresses Parkinsonism remains unknown. Parkin was recently shown to promote the clearance of impaired mitochondria by autophagy, termed mitophagy. Here, we show that Parkin promotes mitophagy by catalyzing mitochondrial ubiquitination, which in turn recruits ubiquitin-binding autophagic components, HDAC6 and p62, leading to mitochondrial clearance.

During the process, juxtanuclear mitochondrial aggregates resembling a protein aggregate-induced aggresome are formed. The formation of these “mito-aggresome” structures requires microtubule motor-dependent transport and is essential for efficient mitophagy. Importantly, we show that AR-JP–causing Parkin mutations are defective in supporting mitophagy due to distinct defects at

  • recognition,
  • transportation, or
  • ubiquitination of impaired mitochondria,

thereby implicating mitophagy defects in the development of Parkinsonism. Our results show that impaired mitochondria and protein aggregates are processed by common ubiquitin-selective autophagy machinery connected to the aggresomal pathway, thus identifying a mechanistic basis for the prevalence of these toxic entities in Parkinson’s disease.
Lee JY,Nagano Y, Taylor JP,Lim KL, and Yao TP. Disease-causing mutations in Parkin impair mitochondrial ubiquitination, aggregation, and HDAC6-dependent mitophagy. J Cell Biol 2010; 189(4):671-679.

Drosophila Parkin Requires PINK1

Loss of the E3 ubiquitin ligase Parkin causes early onset Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder of unknown etiology. Parkin has been linked to multiple cellular processes including

  • protein degradation,
  • mitochondrial homeostasis, and
  • autophagy;

however, its precise role in pathogenesis is unclear. Recent evidence suggests that Parkin is recruited to damaged mitochondria, possibly affecting

  • mitochondrial fission and/or fusion,
  • to mediate their autophagic turnover.

The precise mechanism of recruitment and the ubiquitination target are unclear. Here we show in Drosophila cells that PINK1 is required to recruit Parkin to dysfunctional mitochondria and promote their degradation. Furthermore, PINK1 and Parkin mediate the ubiquitination of the profusion factor Mfn on the outer surface of mitochondria. Loss of Drosophila PINK1 or parkin causes an increase in Mfn abundance in vivo and concomitant elongation of mitochondria. These findings provide a molecular mechanism by which the PINK1/Parkin pathway affects mitochondrial fission/fusion as suggested by previous genetic interaction studies. We hypothesize that Mfn ubiquitination may provide a mechanism by which terminally damaged mitochondria are labeled and sequestered for degradation by autophagy.

Ziviani E, Tao RN, and Whitworth AJ. Drosophila Parkin requires PINK1 for mitochondrial translocation and ubiquitinates Mitofusin. PNAS 2010. Pp6

Dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1) in Parkinson’s
Mutations in Parkin, an E3 ubiquitin ligase that regulates protein turnover, represent one of the major causes of familial Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the loss of dopaminergic neurons and impaired mitochondrial functions. The underlying mechanism by which pathogenic parkin mutations induce mitochondrial abnormality is not fully understood. Here we demonstrate that Parkin interacts with and subsequently ubiquitinates dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1), for promoting its proteasome-dependent degradation. Pathogenic mutation or knockdown of Parkin inhibits the ubiquitination and degradation of Drp1, leading to an increased level of Drp1 for mitochondrial fragmentation. These results identify Drp1 as a novel substrate of Parkin and suggest a potential mechanism linking abnormal Parkin expression to mitochondrial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of PD.

Wang H, Song P, Du L, Tian W. Parkin ubiquitinates Drp1 for proteasome-dependent degradation: implication of dysregulated mitochondrial dynamics in Parkinson’s disease.
JBC Papers in Press. Published on February 3, 2011 as Manuscript M110.144238.

Pink1, Parkin, and DJ-1 Form a Complex
Mutations in the genes PTEN-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1), PARKIN, and DJ-1 cause autosomal recessive forms of Parkinson disease (PD), and the Pink1/Parkin pathway regulates mitochondrial integrity and function. An important question is whether the proteins encoded by these genes function to regulate activities of other cellular compartments. A study in mice, reported by Xiong et al. in this issue of the JCI, demonstrates that Pink1, Parkin, and DJ-1 can form a complex in the cytoplasm, with Pink1 and DJ-1 promoting the E3 ubiquitin ligase activity of Parkin to degrade substrates via the proteasome (see the related article, doi:10.1172/ JCI37617).

This protein complex in the cytosol may or may not be related to the role of these proteins in regulating mitochondrial function or oxidative stress in vivo.
Three models for the role of the PPD complex. In this issue of the JCI, Xiong et al. report that Pink1, Parkin, and DJ-1 bind to each other and form a PPD E3 ligase complex in which Pink1 and DJ-1 modulate Parkin-dependent ubiquitination and subsequent degradation of substrates via the proteasome. Previous work suggests that the Pink1/Parkin pathway regulates mitochondrial integrity and promotes mitochondrial fission in Drosophila.

(A) Parkin and DJ-1 may be recruited to the mitochondrial outer membrane during stress and interact with Pink1. These interactions may facilitate the ligase activity of Parkin, thereby facilitating the turnover of molecules that regulate mitochondrial dynamics and mitophagy. The PPD complex may have other roles in the cytosol that result in degradative ubiquitination and/or relay information from mitochondria to other cellular compartments.
(B) Alternatively, Pink1 may be released from mitochondria after cleavage to interact with DJ-1 and Parkin in the cytosol.
A and B differ in the site of action of the PPD complex and the cleavage status of Pink1.
The complex forms on the mitochondrial outer membrane potentially containing full-length Pink1 in A, and in the cytosol with cleaved Pink1 in B.
Lack of DJ-1 function results in phenotypes that are distinct from the mitochondrial phenotypes observed in null mutants of Pink1 or Parkin in Drosophila. Thus, although the PPD complex is illustrated here as regulating mitochondrial fission, the role of DJ-1 in vivo remains to be clarified.
(C) It is also possible that the action occurs in the cytosol and is independent of the function of Pink1/Parkin in regulating mitochondrial integrity and function.

The Xiong et al. study offers an entry point for explorations of the role of Pink1, Parkin, and DJ-1 in the cytoplasm. It remains to be shown whether Parkin, in complex with Pink1 and DJ-1, carries out protein degradation in vivo.

Li H, and Guo M. Protein degradation in Parkinson disease revisited: it’s complex. commentaries. J Clin Invest.  doi:10.1172/JCI38619.

Xiong, H., et al. Parkin, PINK1, and DJ-1 form a ubiquitin E3 ligase complex promoting unfolded protein degradation. J. Clin. Invest. 2009; 119:650–660.

 Mitochondrial Ubiquitin Ligase, MITOL, protects neuronal cells

Nitric oxide (NO) is implicated in neuronal cell survival. However, excessive NO production mediates neuronal cell death, in part via mitochondrial dysfunction. Here, we report that the mitochondrial ubiquitin ligase, MITOL, protects neuronal cells from mitochondrial damage caused by accumulation of S-nitrosylated microtubule associated protein 1B-light chain 1 (LC1). S-nitrosylation of LC1 induces a conformational change that serves both to activate LC1 and to promote its ubiquination by MITOL, indicating that microtubule
stabilization by LC1 is regulated through its interaction with MITOL. Excessive NO production can inhibit MITOL, and MITOL inhibition resulted in accumulation of S-nitrosylated LC1 following stimulation of NO production by calcimycin and N-methyl-D-aspartate. LC1 accumulation under these conditions resulted in mitochondrial dysfunction and neuronal cell death. Thus, the balance between LC1 activation by S-nitrosylation and down-regulation by MITOL is critical for neuronal cell survival. Our findings may contribute significantly to an understanding of the mechanisms of neurological diseases caused by nitrosative stress-mediated mitochondrial dysfunction.

Yonashiro R, Kimijima Y, Shimura T, Kawaguchi K, et al. Mitochondrial ubiquitin ligase MITOL blocks S-nitrosylated MAP1B-light chain 1-mediated mitochondrial dysfunction and neuronal cell death. PNAS; 2012. pp 6.

Ubiquitin–Proteasome System in Neurodegeneration
A common histopathological hallmark of most neurodegenerative diseases is the presence of aberrant proteinaceous inclusions inside affected neurons. Because these protein aggregates are detected using antibodies against components of the ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS), impairment of this machinery for regulated proteolysis has been suggested to be at the root of neurodegeneration. This hypothesis has been difficult to prove in vivo owing to the lack of appropriate tools. The recent report of transgenic mice with ubiquitous expression of a UPS-reporter protein should finally make it possible to test in vivo the role of the UPS in neurodegeneration.

Hernandez F, Dıaz-Hernandez M, Avila J and Lucas JJ. Testing the ubiquitin–proteasome hypothesis of neurodegeneration in vivo. TRENDS in Neurosciences 2004; 27(2): 66-68.

ALP in Parkinson’s
The ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) and autophagy-lysosome pathway (ALP) are the two most important mechanisms that normally repair or remove abnormal proteins. Alterations in the function of these systems to degrade misfolded and aggregated proteins are being increasingly recognized as playing a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of many neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Dysfunction of the UPS has been already strongly implicated in the pathogenesis of this disease and, more recently, growing interest has been shown in identifying the role of ALP in neurodegeneration. Mutations of a-synuclein and the increase of intracellular concentrations of non-mutant a-synuclein have been associated with Parkinson’s disease phenotype.

The demonstration that a-synuclein is degraded by both proteasome and autophagy indicates a possible linkage between the dysfunction of the UPS or ALP and the occurrence of this disorder.The fact that mutant a-synucleins inhibit ALP functioning by tightly binding to the receptor on the lysosomal membrane for autophagy pathway further supports the assumption that impairment of the ALP may be related to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

In this review, we summarize the recent findings related to this topic and discuss the unique role of the ALP in this neurogenerative disorder and the putative therapeutic potential through ALP enhancement.

Pan Y, Kondo S, Le W, Jankovic J. The role of autophagy-lysosome pathway in
neurodegeneration associated with Parkinson’s disease. Brain 2008; 131: 1969-1978. doi:10.1093/brain/awm318.

Ubiquitin-Proteasome System in Parkinson’s

There is growing evidence that dysfunction of the mitochondrial respiratory chain and failure of the cellular protein degradation machinery, specifically the ubiquitin-proteasome system, play an important role in the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease. We now show that the corresponding pathways of these two systems are linked at the transcriptomic level in Parkinsonian substantia nigra. We examined gene expression in medial and lateral substantia nigra (SN) as well as in frontal cortex using whole genome DNA oligonucleotide microarrays. In this study, we use a hypothesis-driven approach in analysing microarray data to describe the expression of mitochondrial and ubiquitin-proteasomal system (UPS) genes in Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Although a number of genes showed up-regulation, we found an overall decrease in expression affecting the majority of mitochondrial and UPS sequences. The down-regulated genes include genes that encode subunits of complex I and the Parkinson’s-disease-linked UCHL1. The observed changes in expression were very similar for both medial and lateral SN and also affected the PD cerebral cortex. As revealed by “gene shaving” clustering analysis, there was a very significant correlation between the transcriptomic profiles of both systems including in control brains.

Therefore, the mitochondria and the proteasome form a higher-order gene regulatory network that is severely perturbed in Parkinson’s disease. Our quantitative results also suggest that Parkinson’s disease is a disease of more than one cell class, i.e. that it goes beyond the catecholaminergic neuron and involves glia as well.

Duke DC, Moran LB, Kalaitzakis ME, Deprez M, et al. Transcriptome analysis reveals link between proteasomal and mitochondrial pathways in Parkinson’s disease. Neurogenetics 2006; 7:139-148.
Bax Degradation a Novel Mechanism for Survival in Bcl-2 overexpressed cancer cells
The authors previously reported that proteasome inhibitors were able to overcome Bcl-2-mediated protection from apoptosis, and now show that inhibition of the proteasome activity in Bcl-2-overexpressing cells accumulates the proapoptotic Bax protein to mitochondrial cytoplasm, where it interacts to Bcl-2 protein. This event was followed by release of mitochondrial cytochrome c into the cytosol and activation of caspase-mediated apoptosis. In contrast, proteasome inhibition did not induce any apparent changes in Bcl-2 protein levels. In addition, treatment with a proteasome inhibitor increased levels of ubiquitinated forms of Bax protein, without any effects on Bax mRNA expression. They also established a cell-free Bax degradation assay in which an in vitro-translated, 35S-labeled Bax protein can be degraded by a tumor cell protein extract, inhibitable by addition of a proteasome inhibitor or depletion of the proteasome or ATP. The Bax degradation activity can be reconstituted in the proteasome-depleted supernatant by addition of a purified 20S proteasome or proteasome-enriched fraction. Finally, by using tissue samples of human prostate adenocarcinoma, they demonstrated that increased levels of Bax degradation correlated well with decreased levels of Bax protein and increased Gleason scores of prostate cancer. These studies strongly suggest that ubiquitin-proteasome-mediated Bax degradation is a novel survival mechanism in human cancer cells and that selective targeting of this pathway should provide a unique approach for treatment of human cancers, especially those overexpressing Bcl-2.
In the current study, These investigators report that

  • (i) proteasome inhibition results in Bax accumulation before release of cytochrome c and induction of apoptosis, which is associated with the ability of proteasome inhibitors to overcome Bcl-2-mediated antiapoptotic function;
  • (ii) Bax is regulated by an ATP-ubiquitin-proteasome-dependent degradation pathway; and
  • (iii) decreased levels of Bax protein correlate with increased levels of Bax degradation in aggressive human prostate cancer.

Li B and Dou QP. Bax degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome-dependent pathway: Involvement in tumor survival and progression. PNAS 2000; 97(8): 3851-3855.

p97 and DBeQ, ATP-competitive p97 inhibitor
A major limitation to current studies on the biological functions of p97/Cdc48 is that there is no method to rapidly shut off its ATPase activity. Given the range of cellular processes in which Cdc48 participates, it is difficult to determine whether any particular phenotype observed in the existing mutants is due to a direct or indirect effect. Moreover, inhibition of p97 activity in animal cells by siRNA or expression of a dominant-negative version is challenged by its high abundance and is not suited to evaluating proximal phenotypic effects of p97 loss of function.

A specific small-molecule inhibitor of p97 would provide an important tool to investigate diverse functions of this essential ATPase associated with diverse cellular activities (AAA) ATPase and to evaluate its potential to be a therapeutic target in human disease. Cancer cells may be particularly sensitive to killing by suppression of protein degradation mechanisms, because they may exhibit a heightened dependency on these mechanisms to clear an elevated burden of quality-control substrates. For example, some cancers produce high levels of a specific protein that is a prominent quality-control substrate (e.g., Ig light chains in multiple myeloma) or produce high levels of reactive oxygen species, which can result in excessive protein damage via oxidation. Therefore, a specific p97 inhibitor would be a valuable research tool to investigate p97 function in cells.

We carried out a high-throughput screen to identify inhibitors of p97 ATPase activity. Dual-reporter cell lines that simultaneously express p97-dependent and p97-independent proteasome substrates were used to stratify inhibitors that emerged from the screen. N2,N4-dibenzylquinazoline-2,4-diamine (DBeQ) was identified as a selective,potent, reversible, and ATP-competitive p97 inhibitor.

DBeQ blocks multiple processes that have been shown by RNAi to depend on p97, including degradation of ubiquitin fusion degradation and endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation pathway reporters, as well as autophagosome maturation. DBeQ also potently inhibits cancer cell growth and is more rapid than a proteasome inhibitor at mobilizing the executioner caspases-3 and -7.

Simultaneous inhibition of proteasome and histone deacetylase 6 (HDAC6) [which is required for autophagy results in synergistic killing of multiple myeloma cells]. Interestingly, more than one dozen human clinical trials ( combine bortezomib with the broad-spectrum HDAC inhibitor vorinostat, which is active toward HDAC6. Targeting p97
may provide an alternative route to achieving the same objective. Our results provide a rationale for targeting p97 in cancer therapy. Future work will provide molecular insight into how inhibition of p97 activity by DBeQ results in apoptosis and could strengthen the rationale for a p97-targeted cancer therapeutic.

Chou TF, Brown SJ, Minond D, Nordin BE, et al. Reversible inhibitor of p97, DBeQ, impairs both ubiquitin-dependent and autophagic protein clearance pathways. PNAS 2011; pp 6

The causes of various neurodegenerative diseases, particularly sporadic cases, remain unknown, but increasing evidence suggests that these diseases may share similar molecular and cellular mechanisms of pathogenesis. One prominent feature common to most neurodegenerative diseases is the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the form of insoluble protein aggregates or inclusion bodies. Although these aggregates have different protein compositions, they all contain ubiquitin and proteasome subunits, implying a failure of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) in the removal of misfolded proteins.

A direct link between UPS dysfunction and neurodegeneration has been
provided by recent findings that genetic mutations in UPS components cause several rare, familial forms of neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly clear that oxidative stress, which results from aging or exposure to environmental toxins, can directly damage UPS components, thereby contributing to the pathogenesis of sporadic forms of neurodegenerative diseases.

Aberrations in the UPS often result in defective proteasome-mediated protein degradation, leading to accumulation of toxic proteins and eventually to neuronal cell death. Interestingly, emerging evidence has begun to suggest that impairment in substrate-specific components of the UPS, such as E3 ubiquitin-protein ligases, may cause aberrant ubiquitination and neurodegeneration in a proteasome-independent manner. This provides an overview of the molecular components of the UPS and their impairment in familial and sporadic forms of neurodegenerative diseases, and summarizes present knowledge about the pathogenic mechanisms of UPS dysfunction in neurodegeneration.

Molecular mechanisms of protein ubiquitination and degradation by the UPS. Ubiquitination involves a highly specific enzyme cascade in which

  • ubiquitin (Ub) is first activated by the ubiquitinactivating enzyme (E1),
  • then transferred to an ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme (E2), and
  • finally covalently attached to the substrate by an ubiquitin-protein ligase (E3).

Ubiquitination is a reversible posttranslational modification in which the removal of Ub is mediated by a deubiquitinating enzyme (DUB).

  • Substrate proteins can be either monoubiquitinated or polyubiquitinated through successive conjugation of Ub moieties to an internal lysine residue in Ub.
  • K48-linked poly-Ub chains are recognized by the 26S proteasome, resulting in degradation of the substrate and recycling of Ub.
  • Monoubiquitination or K63-linked polyubiquitination plays a number of regulatory roles in cells that are proteasome-independent.


Loss-of-function mutations in parkin, a 465-amino-acid RING-type E3 ligase, were first identified as the cause for autosomal recessive juvenile Parkinsonism (AR-JP) and subsequently found to account for ~50% of all recessively transmitted early-onset PD cases. Interestingly, patients with parkin mutations do not exhibit Lewy body pathology.

Possible pathogenic mechanisms by which impaired UPS components cause neurodegeneration. Genetic mutations or oxidative stress from aging and/or exposure to environmental toxins have been shown to impair the ubiquitination machinery (particularly E3 ubiquitin-protein ligases) and deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs), resulting in abnormal ubiquitination. Depending on the type of ubiquitination affected, the impairment could cause neurodegeneration through two different mechanisms.

In the first model, aberrant K48-linked polyubiquitination resulting from impaired E3s or DUBs alters protein degradation by the proteasome, leading to accumulation of toxic proteins and subsequent neurodegeneration. The proteasomes could be directly damaged by oxidative stress or might be inhibited by protein aggregation, which exacerbates the neurotoxicity.

In the second model, aberrant monoubiquitination or K63-linked polyubiquitination resulting from impaired E3s or DUBs alters crucial non-proteasomal functions, such as gene transcription and protein trafficking, thereby causing neurodegeneration without protein aggregation.

These two models are not mutually exclusive because a single E3 or DUB enzyme, such as parkin or UCH-L1, could regulate more than one type of ubiquitination. In addition, abnormal ubiquitination and neurodegeneration could also result from mutation or oxidative stress-induced structural changes in the protein substrates that alter their recognition and degradation by the UPS.

Lian Li and Chin LS. IMPAIRMENT OF THE UBIQUITIN-PROTEASOME SYSTEM: A COMMON PATHOGENIC MECHANISM IN NEURODEGENERATIVE DISORDERS. In The Ubiquitin Proteasome System…Chapter 23. (Eds: Eds: Mario Di Napoli and Cezary Wojcik) 553-577 © 2007 Nova Science Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-1-60021-749-4.

filedesc Schematic diagram of the ubiquitylati...

filedesc Schematic diagram of the ubiquitylation system. Created by Roger B. Dodd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Current Noteworthy Work

Nassif M and Hetz C.  Autophagy impairment: a crossroad between neurodegeneration and tauopathies.  BMC Biology 2012; 10:78.

Impairment of protein degradation pathways such as autophagy is emerging as a consistent and transversal pathological phenomenon in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer´s, Huntington´s, and Parkinson´s disease. Genetic inactivation of autophagy in mice has demonstrated a key role of the pathway in maintaining protein homeostasis in the brain, triggering massive neuronal loss and the accumulation of abnormal protein inclusions.  A paper in Molecular Neurodegeneration from Abeliovich´s group now suggests a role for phosphorylation of Tau and the activation of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β) in driving neurodegeneration in autophagy-deficient neurons. We discuss the implications of this study for understanding the factors driving neurofibrillary tangle formation in Alzheimer´s disease and tauopathies.

Cajee UF, Hull R and Ntwasa M. Modification by Ubiquitin-Like Proteins: Significance in Apoptosis and Autophagy Pathways. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2012, 13, 11804-11831; doi:10.3390/ijms130911804

Ubiquitin-like proteins (Ubls) confer diverse functions on their target proteins. The modified proteins are involved in various biological processes, including DNA replication, signal transduction, cell cycle control, embryogenesis, cytoskeletal regulation,
metabolism, stress response, homeostasis and mRNA processing. Modifiers such as SUMO, ATG12, ISG15, FAT10, URM1, and UFM have been shown to modify proteins thus conferring functions related to programmed cell death, autophagy and regulation of
the immune system. Putative modifiers such as Domain With No Name (DWNN) have been identified in recent times but not fully characterized. In this review, we focus on cellular processes involving human Ubls and their targets.

Aloy P. Shaping the future of interactome networks. (A report of the third Interactome Networks Conference, Hinxton, UK, 29 August-1 September 2007). Genome Biology 2007; 8:316 (doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-10-316)

Complex systems are often networked, and biology is no exception. Following on from the genome sequencing projects,
experiments show that proteins in living organisms are highly connected, which helps to explain how such great complexity
can be achieved by a comparatively small set of gene products. At a recent conference on interactome networks held outside
Cambridge, UK, the most recent advances in research on cellular networks were discussed. This year’s conference focused on
identifying the strengths and weaknesses of currently resolved interaction networks and the techniques used to determine
them – reflecting the fact that the field of mapping interaction networks is maturing.

Peroutka RJ, Orcutt SJ, Strickler JE, and Butt TR. SUMO Fusion Technology for Enhanced Protein Expression and Purification in Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes. Chapter 2. in T.C. Evans, M.-Q. Xu (eds.), Heterologous Gene Expression in E. coli, Methods in Molecular Biology 705:15-29. DOI 10.1007/978-1-61737-967-3_2, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

The preparation of sufficient amounts of high-quality protein samples is the major bottleneck for structural proteomics. The use of recombinant proteins has increased significantly during the past decades. The most commonly used host, Escherichia coli, presents many challenges including protein misfolding, protein degradation, and low solubility. A novel SUMO fusion technology appears to enhance protein expression and solubility ( Efficient removal of the SUMO tag by SUMO protease in vitro facilitates the generation of target protein with a native N-terminus. In addition to its physiological relevance in eukaryotes, SUMO can be used as a powerful biotechnology tool for enhanced functional protein expression in prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

Juang YC, Landry MC, et al. OTUB1 Co-opts Lys48-Linked Ubiquitin Recognition to Suppress E2 Enzyme Function. Molecular Cell 2012; 45: 384–397. DOI 10.1016/j.molcel.2012.01.011

Ubiquitylation entails the concerted action of E1, E2, and E3 enzymes. We recently reported that OTUB1, a deubiquitylase, inhibits the DNA damage response independently of its isopeptidase activity. OTUB1 does so by blocking ubiquitin transfer by UBC13, the cognate E2 enzyme for RNF168. OTUB1 also inhibits E2s of the UBE2D and UBE2E families. Here we elucidate the structural mechanism by which OTUB1 binds E2s to inhibit ubiquitin transfer. OTUB1 recognizes ubiquitin-charged E2s through contacts with both donor ubiquitin and the E2 enzyme. Surprisingly, free ubiquitin associates with the canonical distal ubiquitin-binding site on OTUB1 to promote formation of the inhibited E2 complex. Lys48 of donor ubiquitin lies near the OTUB1 catalytic site and the C terminus of free ubiquitin, a configuration that mimics the products of Lys48-linked ubiquitin chain cleavage. OTUB1 therefore co-opts Lys48-linked ubiquitin chain recognition to suppress ubiquitin conjugation and the DNA damage response.

Hunter T. The Age of Crosstalk: Phosphorylation, Ubiquitination, and Beyond. Molecular Cell  2007; 28:730-738. DOI 10.1016/ j.molcel.2007.11.019.

Crosstalk between different types of posttranslational modification is an emerging theme in eukaryotic biology. Particularly prominent are the multiple connections between phosphorylation and ubiquitination, which act either positively or negatively in both directions to regulate these processes.

Tu Y, Chen C, et al. The Ubiquitin Proteasome Pathway (UPP) in the regulation of cell cycle control and DNA damage repair and its implication in tumorigenesis. Int J Clin Exp Pathol 2012;5(8):726-738. /ISSN:1936-2625/IJCEP1208018

Accumulated evidence supports that the ubiquitin proteasome pathway (UPP) plays a crucial role in protein
metabolism implicated in the regulation of many biological processes such as cell cycle control, DNA damage
response, apoptosis, and so on. Therefore, alterations for the ubiquitin proteasome signaling or functional impairments
for the ubiquitin proteasome components are involved in the etiology of many diseases, particularly in cancer
development.The authors discuss the ubiquitin proteasome pathway in the regulation of cell cycle control and DNA
damage response, the relevance for the altered regulation of these signaling pathways in tumorigenesis, and finally
assess and summarize the advancement for targeting the ubiquitin proteasome pathway in cancer therapy.

Cebollero E , Reggiori F  and Kraft C.  Ribophagy: Regulated Degradation of Protein Production Factories. Int J Cell Biol. 2012; 2012: 182834. doi:  10.1155/2012/182834 (online).

During autophagy, cytosol, protein aggregates, and organelles are sequestered into double-membrane vesicles called autophagosomes and delivered to the lysosome/vacuole for breakdown and recycling of their basic components. In all eukaryotes this pathway is important for adaptation to stress conditions such as nutrient deprivation, as well as to regulate intracellular homeostasis by adjusting organelle number and clearing damaged structures. For a long time, starvation-induced autophagy has been viewed as a nonselective transport pathway; however, recent studies have revealed that autophagy is able to selectively engulf specific structures, ranging from proteins to entire organelles. In this paper, we discuss recent findings on the mechanisms and physiological implications of two selective types of autophagy: ribophagy, the specific degradation of ribosomes, and reticulophagy, the selective elimination of portions of the ER.

Lee JH, Yu WH,…, Nixon RA.  Lysosomal Proteolysis and Autophagy Require Presenilin 1 and Are Disrupted by Alzheimer-Related PS1 Mutations. Cell 2010; 141, 1146–1158. DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2010.05.008.

Macroautophagy is a lysosomal degradative pathway essential for neuron survival. Here, we show that macroautophagy requires the Alzheimer’s disease (AD)-related protein presenilin-1 (PS1). In PS1 null blastocysts, neurons from mice hypomorphic for PS1 or
conditionally depleted of PS1, substrate proteolysis and autophagosome clearance during macroautophagy are prevented as a result of a selective impairment of autolysosome acidification and cathepsin activation. These deficits are caused by failed PS1-dependent
targeting of the v-ATPase V0a1 subunit to lysosomes. N-glycosylation of the V0a1 subunit, essential for its efficient ER-to-lysosome delivery, requires the selective binding of PS1 holoprotein to the unglycosylated subunit and the  sec61alpha/ oligosaccharyltransferase complex. PS1 mutations causing early-onset AD produce a similar lysosomal/autophagy phenotype in
fibroblasts from AD patients. PS1 is therefore essential for v-ATPase targeting to lysosomes, lysosome acidification, and proteolysis during autophagy. Defective lysosomal proteolysis represents a basis for pathogenic protein accumulations and neuronal cell death in AD and suggests previously unidentified therapeutic targets.

Pohl C and Jentsch S. Midbody ring disposal by autophagy is a post-abscission event of cytokinesis. nature cell biology 2009; 11 (1): 65-70.  DOI: 10.1038/ncb1813.

At the end of cytokinesis, the dividing cells are connected by an intercellular bridge, containing the midbody along with a single,
densely ubiquitylated, circular structure called the midbody ring (MR). Recent studies revealed that the MR serves as a target
site for membrane delivery and as a physical barrier between the prospective daughter cells. The MR materializes in telophase,
localizes to the intercellular bridge during cytokinesis, and moves asymmetrically into one cell after abscission. Daughter
cells rarely accumulate MRs of previous divisions, but how these large structures finally disappear remains unknown.
Here, we show that MRs are discarded by autophagy, which involves their sequestration into autophagosomes and delivery to
lysosomes for degradation. Notably, autophagy factors, such as the ubiquitin adaptor p62 and the ubiquitin-related protein Atg8 , associate with the MR during abscission, suggesting that autophagy is coupled to cytokinesis. Moreover, MRs accumulate in cells of patients with lysosomal storage disorders, indicating that defective MR disposal is characteristic of these diseases. Thus our findings suggest that autophagy has a broader role than previously assumed, and that cell renovation by clearing from superfluous large macromolecular assemblies, such as MRs, is an important autophagic function.


Hanai JI, Cao P, Tanksale P, Imamura S, et al. The muscle-specific ubiquitin ligase atrogin-1/MAFbx mediates statin-induced muscle toxicity. The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007; 117(12):3930-3951.

Statins inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, a key enzyme in cholesterol synthesis, and are widely used to treat hypercholesterolemia.
These drugs can lead to a number of side effects in muscle, including muscle fiber breakdown; however, the mechanisms of muscle injury by statins are poorly understood. We report that lovastatin induced the expression of atrogin-1, a key gene involved in skeletal muscle atrophy, in humans with statin myopathy, in zebrafish embryos, and in vitro in murine skeletal muscle cells. In cultured mouse myotubes, atrogin-1 induction following lovastatin treatment was accompanied by distinct morphological changes, largely absent in
atrogin-1 null cells. In zebrafish embryos, lovastatin promoted muscle fiber damage, an effect that was closely mimicked by knockdown of zebrafish HMG-CoA reductase. Moreover, atrogin-1 knockdown in zebrafish embryos prevented lovastatin-induced muscle injury. Finally, overexpression of PGC-1α, a transcriptional coactivator that induces mitochondrial biogenesis and protects against the development of muscle atrophy, dramatically prevented lovastatin-induced muscle damage and abrogated atrogin-1 induction both in fish and in cultured mouse myotubes. Collectively, our human, animal, and in vitro findings shed light on the molecular mechanism of statin-induced myopathy and suggest that atrogin-1 may be a critical mediator of the muscle
damage induced by statins.

Inami Y, Waguri S, Sakamoto A, Kouno T, et al.  Persistent activation of Nrf2 through p62 in hepatocellular carcinoma cells. J. Cell Biol. 2011; 193(2): 275–284.

Macroautophagy (hereafter referred to as autophagy) is a cellular degradation system in which cytoplasmic components, including
organelles, are sequestered by double membrane structures called autophagosomes and the sequestered materials are
degraded by lysosomal hydrolases for supply of amino acids and for cellular homeostasis. Although autophagy has generally been considered nonselective, recent studies have shed light on another indispensable role for basal autophagy in cellular homeostasis, which is mediated by selective degradation of a specific substrate(s).  p62 is a ubiquitously expressed cellular protein that is conserved in metazoa but not in plants and fungi, and recently it has been known as one of the selective substrates for autophagy.
This protein is localized at the autophagosome formation site  and directly interacts with LC3, an autophagosome localizing protein . Subsequently, the p62 is incorporated into the autophagosome and then degraded. Therefore, impaired autophagy is accompanied by
accumulation of p62 followed by the formation of p62 and ubiquitinated protein aggregates because of the nature of both self- oligomerization and ubiquitin binding of p62.


Kima K, Khayrutdinov BI, Leeb CK, et al. Solution structure of the Zβ domain of human DNA-dependent activator of IFN-regulatory factors and its binding modes to B- and Z-DNAs. PNAS 2010; Early Edition ∣ pp 6.

The DNA-dependent activator of IFN-regulatory factors (DAI), also known as DLM-1/ZBP1, initiates an innate immune response by binding to foreign DNAs in the cytosol. For full activation of the immune response, three DNA binding domains at the N terminus are required: two Z-DNA binding domains (ZBDs), Zα and Zβ, and an adjacent putative B-DNA binding domain. The crystal structure of the Zβ domain of human DAI (hZβDAI) in complex with Z-DNA revealed structural features distinct from other known Z-DNA binding proteins, and it was classified as a group II ZBD. To gain structural insights into the DNA binding mechanism of hZβDAI, the solution structure of the free hZβDAI was solved, and its bindings to B- and Z-DNAs were analyzed by NMR spectroscopy. Compared to the Z-DNA–bound structure, the conformation of free hZβDAI has notable alterations in the α3 recognition helix, the “wing,” and Y145, which are critical in Z-DNA recognition. Unlike some other Zα domains, hZβDAI appears to have conformational flexibility, and structural adaptation is required for Z-DNA binding. Chemical-shift perturbation experiments revealed that hZβDAI also binds weakly to B-DNA via a different binding mode. The C-terminal domain of DAI is reported to undergo a conformational change on B-DNA binding; thus, it is possible that these changes are correlated. During the innate immune response, hZβDAI is likely to play an active role in binding to DNAs in both B and Z conformations in the recognition of foreign DNAs.



This extensive review leaves little left unopened. We have seen the central role that the UPS system plays in normal organelle proteolysis in concert with autophagy. Impaired ubiquitination occurs from aging, and/or toxins, under oxidative stress involving E3s or DUBs.

This leads to altered gene transcripton, altered protein trafficking, and plays a role in neurodegenative disease, muscle malfunction, and cancer as well.

English: A cartoon representation of a lysine ...

English: A cartoon representation of a lysine 48-linked diubiquitin molecule. The two ubiquitin chains are shown as green cartoons with each chain labelled. The components of the linkage are indicated and shown as orange sticks. Image was created using PyMOL from PDB id 1aar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Different forms of protein ubiquitylation

Different forms of protein ubiquitylation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Author and Curator: Ritu Saxena, Ph.D.



Nitric oxide (NO) is a lipophilic, highly diffusible and short-lived molecule that acts as a physiological messenger and has been known to regulate a variety of important physiological responses including vasodilation, respiration, cell migration, immune response and apoptosis. Jordi Muntané et al

NO is synthesized by the Nitric Oxide synthase (NOS) enzyme and the enzyme is encoded in three different forms in mammals: neuronal NOS (nNOS or NOS-1), inducible NOS (iNOS or NOS-2), and endothelial NOS (eNOS or NOS-3). The three isoforms, although similar in structure and catalytic function, differ in the way their activity and synthesis in controlled inside a cell. NOS-2, for example is induced in response to inflammatory stimuli, while NOS-1 and NOS-3 are constitutively expressed.

Regulation by Nitric oxide

NO is a versatile signaling molecule and the net effect of NO on gene regulation is variable and ranges from activation to inhibition of transcription.

The intracellular localization is relevant for the activity of NOS. Infact, NOSs are subject to specific targeting to subcellular compartments (plasma membrane, Golgi, cytosol, nucleus and mitochondria) and that this trafficking is crucial for NO production and specific post-translational modifications of target proteins.

Role of Nitric oxide in Cancer

One in four cases of cancer worldwide are a result of chronic inflammation. An inflammatory response causes high levels of activated macrophages. Macrophage activation, in turn, leads to the induction of iNOS gene that results in the generation of large amount of NO. The expression of iNOS induced by inflammatory stimuli coupled with the constitutive expression of nNOS and eNOS may contribute to increased cancer risk. NO can have varied roles in the tumor environment influencing DNA repair, cell cycle, and apoptosis. It can result in antagonistic actions including DNA damage and protection from cytotoxicity, inhibiting and stimulation cell proliferation, and being both anti-apoptotic and pro-apoptotic. Genotoxicity due to high levels of NO could be through direct modification of DNA (nitrosative deamination of nucleic acid bases, transition and/or transversion of nucleic acids, alkylation and DNA strand breakage) and inhibition of DNA repair enzymes (such as alkyltransferase and DNA ligase) through direct or indirect mechanisms. The Multiple actions of NO are probably the result of its chemical (post-translational modifications) and biological heterogeneity (cellular production, consumption and responses). Post-translational modifications of proteins by nitration, nitrosation, phosphorylation, acetylation or polyADP-ribosylation could lead to an increase in the cancer risk. This process can drive carcinogenesis by altering targets and pathways that are crucial for cancer progression much faster than would otherwise occur in healthy tissue.

NO can have several effects even within the tumor microenvironment where it could originate from several cell types including cancer cells, host cells, tumor endothelial cells. Tumor-derived NO could have several functional roles. It can affect cancer progression by augmenting cancer cell proliferation and invasiveness. Infact, it has been proposed that NO promotes tumor growth by regulating blood flow and maintaining the vasodilated tumor microenvironment. NO can stimulate angiogenesis and can also promote metastasis by increasing vascular permeability and upregulating matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMPs have been associated with several functions including cell proliferation, migration, adhesion, differentiation, angiogenesis and so on. Recently, it was reported that metastatic tumor-released NO might impair the immune system, which enables them to escape the immunosurveillance mechanism of cells. Molecular regulation of tumour angiogenesis by nitric oxide.

S-nitrosylation and Cancer

The most prominent and recognized NO reaction with thiols groups of cysteine residues is called S-nitrosylation or S-nitrosation, which leads to the formation of more stable nitrosothiols. High concentrations of intracellular NO can result in high concentrations of S-nitrosylated proteins and dysregulated S-nitrosylation has been implicated in cancer. Oxidative and nitrosative stress is sensed and closely associated with transcriptional regulation of multiple target genes.

Following are a few proteins that are modified via NO and modification of these proteins, in turn, has been known to play direct or indirect roles in cancer.

NO mediated aberrant proteins in Cancer


Bcl-2 is an important anti-apoptotic protein. It works by inhibiting mitochondrial Cytochrome C that is released in response to apoptotic stimuli. In a variety of tumors, Bcl-2 has been shown to be upregulated, and it has additionally been implicated with cancer chemo-resistance through dysregulation of apoptosis. NO exposure causes S-nitrosylation at the two cysteine residues – Cys158 and Cys229 that prevents ubiquitin-proteasomal pathway mediated degradation of the protein. Once prevented from degradation, the protein attenuates its anti-apoptotic effects in cancer progression. The S-nitrosylation based modification of Bcl-2 has been observed to be relevant in drug treatment studies (for eg. Cisplatin). Thus, the impairment of S-nitrosylated Bcl-2 proteins might serve as an effective therapeutic target to decrease cancer-drug resistance.


p53 has been well documented as a tumor suppressor protein and acts as a major player in response to DNA damage and other genomic alterations within the cell. The activation of p53 can lead to cell cycle arrest and DNA repair, however, in case of irrepairable DNA damage, p53 can lead to apoptosis. Nuclear p53 accumulation has been related to NO-mediated anti-tumoral properties. High concentration of NO has been found to cause conformational changes in p53 resulting in biological dysfunction.. In RAW264.7, a murine macrophage cell line, NO donors induce p53 accumulation and apoptosis through JNK-1/2.


Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF1) is a heterodimeric transcription factor that is predominantly active under hypoxic conditions because the HIF-1a subunit is rapidly degraded in normoxic conditions by proteasomal degradation. It regulates the transciption of several genes including those involved in angiogenesis, cell cycle, cell metabolism, and apoptosis. Hypoxic conditions within the tumor can lead to overexpression of HIF-1a. Similar to hypoxia-mediated stress, nitrosative stress can stabilize HIF-1a. NO derivatives have also been shown to participate in hypoxia signaling. Resistance to radiotherapy has been traced back to NO-mediated HIF-1a in solid tumors in some cases.


Phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome ten (PTEN), is again a tumor suppressor protein. It is a phosphatase and has been implicated in many human cancers. PTEN is a crucial negative regulator of PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. Over-activation of PI3K/Akt mediated signaling pathway is known to play a major role in tumorigenesis and angiogenesis. S-nitrosylation of PTEN, that could be a result of NO stress, inhibits PTEN. Inhibition of PTEN phosphatase activity, in turn, leads to promotion of angiogenesis.


C-src belongs to the Src family of protein tyrosine kinases and has been implicated in the promotion of cancer cell invasion and metastasis. It was demonstrated that S-nitrosylation of c-Src at cysteine 498 enhanced its kinase activity, thus, resulting in the enhancement of cancer cell invasion and metastasis.


Muntané J and la Mata MD. Nitric oxide and cancer. World J Hepatol. 2010 Sep 27;2(9):337-44.

Wang Z. Protein S-nitrosylation and cancer. Cancer Lett. 2012 Jul 28;320(2):123-9.

Ziche M and Morbidelli L. Molecular regulation of tumour angiogenesis by nitric oxide. Eur Cytokine Netw. 2009 Dec;20(4):164-70.

Jaiswal M, et al. Nitric oxide in gastrointestinal epithelial cell carcinogenesis: linking inflammation to oncogenesis. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2001 Sep;281(3):G626-34.

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