The tumor suppressor PIP3 phosphatase PTEN is phosphorylated on four clustered Ser/Thr on its C-terminal tail (aa 380–385) and these phosphorylations are proposed to induce a reduction in PTEN’s plasma membrane recruitment. How these phosphorylations affect the structure and enzymatic function of PTEN is poorly understood. To gain insight into the mechanistic basis of PTEN regulation by phosphorylation, we generated semisynthetic site-specifically tetra-phosphorylated PTEN using expressed protein ligation. By employing a combination of biophysical and enzymatic approaches, we have found that purified tail-phosphorylated PTEN relative to its unphosphorylated counterpart shows reduced catalytic activity and membrane affinity and undergoes conformational compaction likely involving an intramolecular interaction between its C-tail and the C2 domain. Our results suggest that there is a competition between membrane phospholipids and PTEN phospho-tail for binding to the C2 domain. These findings reveal a key aspect of PTEN’s regulation and suggest pharmacologic approaches for direct PTEN activation.
PTEN is an enzyme that is found in almost every tissue in the body, and its job is to stop cells dividing. If it fails to perform this job, the uncontrolled proliferation of cells can lead to the growth of tumors. PTEN stops cells dividing by localizing at the plasma membrane of a cell and removing a phosphate group from a lipid called PIP3: this sends a signal, via the PI3K pathway, that suppresses the replication and survival of cells.
Three regions of PTEN are thought to be central to its biological functions: one of these regions, the phosphatase domain, is directly responsible for removing a phosphate group from the lipid PIP3; a second region, called the C2 domain, is known to be critical for PTEN binding to the cell membrane; however, the role of third region, called the C-terminal domain, is poorly understood.
Many proteins are regulated by the addition and removal of phosphate groups, and PTEN is no exception. In particular, it seems as if the addition of phosphate groups to four amino acid residues in the C-terminal domain can switch off the activity of PTEN, but the details of this process have been elusive.
Now, Bolduc et al. have employed a variety of biochemical and biophysical techniques to explore this process, finding that the addition of the phosphate groups reduced PTEN’s affinity for the plasma membrane. At the same time, interactions between the C-terminal and C2 domains of the PTEN cause the shape of the enzyme to change in a way that ‘buries’ the residues to which the phosphate groups have been added.
In addition to offering new insights into PTEN, the work of Bolduc et al. could help efforts to identify compounds with clinical anti-cancer potential.