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1.  E3 Ubiquitin Ligase CHIP and NBR1-Mediated Selective Autophagy Protect Additively against Proteotoxicity in Plant Stress Responses 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(1):e1004116.
Plant stress responses require both protective measures that reduce or restore stress-inflicted damage to cellular structures and mechanisms that efficiently remove damaged and toxic macromolecules, such as misfolded and damaged proteins. We have recently reported that NBR1, the first identified plant autophagy adaptor with a ubiquitin-association domain, plays a critical role in plant stress tolerance by targeting stress-induced, ubiquitinated protein aggregates for degradation by autophagy. Here we report a comprehensive genetic analysis of CHIP, a chaperone-associated E3 ubiquitin ligase from Arabidopsis thaliana implicated in mediating degradation of nonnative proteins by 26S proteasomes. We isolated two chip knockout mutants and discovered that they had the same phenotypes as the nbr1 mutants with compromised tolerance to heat, oxidative and salt stresses and increased accumulation of insoluble proteins under heat stress. To determine their functional interactions, we generated chip nbr1 double mutants and found them to be further compromised in stress tolerance and in clearance of stress-induced protein aggregates, indicating additive roles of CHIP and NBR1. Furthermore, stress-induced protein aggregates were still ubiquitinated in the chip mutants. Through proteomic profiling, we systemically identified heat-induced protein aggregates in the chip and nbr1 single and double mutants. These experiments revealed that highly aggregate-prone proteins such as Rubisco activase and catalases preferentially accumulated in the nbr1 mutant while a number of light-harvesting complex proteins accumulated at high levels in the chip mutant after a relatively short period of heat stress. With extended heat stress, aggregates for a large number of intracellular proteins accumulated in both chip and nbr1 mutants and, to a greater extent, in the chip nbr1 double mutant. Based on these results, we propose that CHIP and NBR1 mediate two distinct but complementary anti-proteotoxic pathways and protein's propensity to aggregate under stress conditions is one of the critical factors for pathway selection of protein degradation.
Author Summary
Environmental stresses such as heat cause generation of misfolded and damaged proteins, which are highly toxic and must be efficiently removed. In plants, NBR1, the first isolated autophagy receptor with an ubiquitin-association domain, plays a critical role in plant stress tolerance by targeting ubiquitinated protein aggregates under stress conditions for degradation by autophagy. To study how stress-induced misfolded and damaged proteins are detected and ubiquitinated in plant cells, we analyzed the chaperone-associated E3 ubiquitin ligase CHIP from Arabidopsis thaliana for its role in protection against proteotoxicity in plant stress responses. Disruption of Arabidopsis CHIP caused increased sensitivity to a spectrum of abiotic stresses as found in the Arabidopsis nbr1 mutants. Disruption of both Arabidopsis CHIP and NBR1 further compromised plant stress tolerance, indicating that their roles are additive. Furthermore, in the chip nbr1 double mutant, compromised heat tolerance was associated with increased accumulation of insoluble proteins derived mostly from heat-sensitive but biologically important proteins such as Rubisco activase, catalases and proteins required for protein synthesis and folding. Importantly, stress-induced protein aggregates were still highly ubiquitinated in the chip mutants. These results strongly suggest that CHIP and NBR1 function in two distinct but complementary anti-proteotoxic pathways in plant stress responses.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004116
PMCID: PMC3907298  PMID: 24497840
2.  NBR1-Mediated Selective Autophagy Targets Insoluble Ubiquitinated Protein Aggregates in Plant Stress Responses 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(1):e1003196.
Plant autophagy plays an important role in delaying senescence, nutrient recycling, and stress responses. Functional analysis of plant autophagy has almost exclusively focused on the proteins required for the core process of autophagosome assembly, but little is known about the proteins involved in other important processes of autophagy, including autophagy cargo recognition and sequestration. In this study, we report functional genetic analysis of Arabidopsis NBR1, a homolog of mammalian autophagy cargo adaptors P62 and NBR1. We isolated two nbr1 knockout mutants and discovered that they displayed some but not all of the phenotypes of autophagy-deficient atg5 and atg7 mutants. Like ATG5 and ATG7, NBR1 is important for plant tolerance to heat, oxidative, salt, and drought stresses. The role of NBR1 in plant tolerance to these abiotic stresses is dependent on its interaction with ATG8. Unlike ATG5 and ATG7, however, NBR1 is dispensable in age- and darkness-induced senescence and in resistance to a necrotrophic pathogen. A selective role of NBR1 in plant responses to specific abiotic stresses suggest that plant autophagy in diverse biological processes operates through multiple cargo recognition and delivery systems. The compromised heat tolerance of atg5, atg7, and nbr1 mutants was associated with increased accumulation of insoluble, detergent-resistant proteins that were highly ubiquitinated under heat stress. NBR1, which contains an ubiquitin-binding domain, also accumulated to high levels with an increasing enrichment in the insoluble protein fraction in the autophagy-deficient mutants under heat stress. These results suggest that NBR1-mediated autophagy targets ubiquitinated protein aggregates most likely derived from denatured or otherwise damaged nonnative proteins generated under stress conditions.
Author Summary
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved process that sequestrates and delivers cytoplasmic macromolecules and organelles to the vacuoles or lysosomes for degradation. In plants, autophagy is involved in supplying internal nutrients during starvation and in promoting cell survival during senescence and during biotic and abiotic stresses. Arabidopsis NBR1 is a homolog of mammalian autophagy cargo adaptors P62 and NBR1. Disruption of Arabidopsis NBR1 caused increased sensitivity to a spectrum of abiotic stresses but had no significant effect on plant senescence, responses to carbon starvation, or resistance to a necrotrophic pathogen. NBR1 contains an ubiquitin-binding domain, and the compromised stress tolerance of autophagy mutants was associated with increased accumulation of NBR1 and ubiquitin-positive cellular protein aggregates in the insoluble protein fraction under stress conditions. Based on these results, we propose that NBR1 targets ubiquitinated protein aggregates most likely derived from denatured and otherwise damaged nonnative proteins for autophagic clearance under stress conditions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003196
PMCID: PMC3547818  PMID: 23341779
3.  Global Mapping of Cell Type–Specific Open Chromatin by FAIRE-seq Reveals the Regulatory Role of the NFI Family in Adipocyte Differentiation 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(10):e1002311.
Identification of regulatory elements within the genome is crucial for understanding the mechanisms that govern cell type–specific gene expression. We generated genome-wide maps of open chromatin sites in 3T3-L1 adipocytes (on day 0 and day 8 of differentiation) and NIH-3T3 fibroblasts using formaldehyde-assisted isolation of regulatory elements coupled with high-throughput sequencing (FAIRE-seq). FAIRE peaks at the promoter were associated with active transcription and histone modifications of H3K4me3 and H3K27ac. Non-promoter FAIRE peaks were characterized by H3K4me1+/me3-, the signature of enhancers, and were largely located in distal regions. The non-promoter FAIRE peaks showed dynamic change during differentiation, while the promoter FAIRE peaks were relatively constant. Functionally, the adipocyte- and preadipocyte-specific non-promoter FAIRE peaks were, respectively, associated with genes up-regulated and down-regulated by differentiation. Genes highly up-regulated during differentiation were associated with multiple clustered adipocyte-specific FAIRE peaks. Among the adipocyte-specific FAIRE peaks, 45.3% and 11.7% overlapped binding sites for, respectively, PPARγ and C/EBPα, the master regulators of adipocyte differentiation. Computational motif analyses of the adipocyte-specific FAIRE peaks revealed enrichment of a binding motif for nuclear family I (NFI) transcription factors. Indeed, ChIP assay showed that NFI occupy the adipocyte-specific FAIRE peaks and/or the PPARγ binding sites near PPARγ, C/EBPα, and aP2 genes. Overexpression of NFIA in 3T3-L1 cells resulted in robust induction of these genes and lipid droplet formation without differentiation stimulus. Overexpression of dominant-negative NFIA or siRNA–mediated knockdown of NFIA or NFIB significantly suppressed both induction of genes and lipid accumulation during differentiation, suggesting a physiological function of these factors in the adipogenic program. Together, our study demonstrates the utility of FAIRE-seq in providing a global view of cell type–specific regulatory elements in the genome and in identifying transcriptional regulators of adipocyte differentiation.
Author Summary
Humans consist of a few hundred types of specialized-function cells. Spatial and temporal transcriptional regulation of genes is essential for manifestation of cellular phenotypes. Identification of regulatory regions in the genome is central to understanding the mechanism of cell type–specific gene regulation. Recently developed high-throughput sequencing technology and computational analyses allow genome-wide investigation of the genome's chromatin structure. Using the FAIRE-seq technique, we identified the genome's open chromatin regions, which harbor regulatory elements in adipocytes. Open chromatin regions distal to genes' transcription start sites significantly differ among cell types. Multiple cell type–specific open chromatin regions exist near genes regulated during adipocyte differentiation. Computational motif analysis of adipocyte-specific open chromatin regions revealed enrichment of a binding motif for the NFI transcription factor family. These factors bind to the regulatory elements near adipogenic PPARγ, C/EBPα, and aP2 genes and regulate their expression. Overexpression of NFIA in 3T3-L1 cells resulted in robust induction of these genes and lipid droplet formation without differentiation stimulus and knockdown of NFIA or NFIB significantly suppressed both induction of genes and lipid accumulation during differentiation. Our study demonstrates the utility of FAIRE-seq in providing a global view of regulatory elements and in identifying transcriptional regulators of cellular functions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002311
PMCID: PMC3197683  PMID: 22028663
4.  The cdx Genes and Retinoic Acid Control the Positioning and Segmentation of the Zebrafish Pronephros 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(10):e189.
Kidney function depends on the nephron, which comprises a blood filter, a tubule that is subdivided into functionally distinct segments, and a collecting duct. How these regions arise during development is poorly understood. The zebrafish pronephros consists of two linear nephrons that develop from the intermediate mesoderm along the length of the trunk. Here we show that, contrary to current dogma, these nephrons possess multiple proximal and distal tubule domains that resemble the organization of the mammalian nephron. We examined whether pronephric segmentation is mediated by retinoic acid (RA) and the caudal (cdx) transcription factors, which are known regulators of segmental identity during development. Inhibition of RA signaling resulted in a loss of the proximal segments and an expansion of the distal segments, while exogenous RA treatment induced proximal segment fates at the expense of distal fates. Loss of cdx function caused abrogation of distal segments, a posterior shift in the position of the pronephros, and alterations in the expression boundaries of raldh2 and cyp26a1, which encode enzymes that synthesize and degrade RA, respectively. These results suggest that the cdx genes act to localize the activity of RA along the axis, thereby determining where the pronephros forms. Consistent with this, the pronephric-positioning defect and the loss of distal tubule fate were rescued in embryos doubly-deficient for cdx and RA. These findings reveal a novel link between the RA and cdx pathways and provide a model for how pronephric nephrons are segmented and positioned along the embryonic axis.
Author Summary
In the kidney, structures known as nephrons are responsible for collecting metabolic waste. Nephrons are composed of a blood filter (glomerulus) followed by a series of specialized tubule regions, or segments, which recover solutes such as salts, and finally terminate with a collecting duct. The genetic mechanisms that establish nephron segmentation in mammals have been a challenge to study because of the kidney's complex organogenesis. The zebrafish embryonic kidney (pronephros) contains two nephrons, previously thought to consist of a glomerulus, short tubule, and long stretch of duct. In this study, we have redefined the anatomy of the zebrafish pronephros and shown that the duct is actually subdivided into distinct tubule segments that are analogous to the proximal and distal segments found in mammalian nephrons. Next, we used the zebrafish pronephros to investigate how nephron segmentation occurs. We found that retinoic acid (RA) induces proximal pronephros segments and represses distal segment fates. Further, we found that the caudal (cdx) transcription factors direct the anteroposterior location of pronephric progenitors by regulating the site of RA production. Taken together, these results reveal that a cdx-RA pathway plays a key role in both establishing where the pronephros forms along the embryonic axis as well as its segmentation pattern.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030189
PMCID: PMC2042002  PMID: 17953490

Results 1-4 (4)