Important Factors in the Formation and Clearance of Protein

Journal of Developing Drugs
Sha, J Develop Drugs 2014, 3:1
Open Access
Important Factors in the Formation and Clearance of Protein Aggregation
Zhe Sha*
Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, USA
Neurodegenerative diseases are major health challenges in the
aged population and profoundly affect the life expectancy and quality
of life of the elderly people. These diseases are caused by a buildup of aggregation-prone proteins (e.g. Amyloid β (Aβ) and tau in
Alzheimer’s disease, PolyQ proteins (Htt, Atx3n) in Huntington’s
disease, α-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease, and TDP43 or SOD1 in
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)). Build-up of these harmful
proteins causes additional damages to the cells such as mitochondrial
dysfunction, build-up of reactive oxygen species, and eventually causes
cell death [1]. On the other hand, decreasing such aggregation-prone
proteins has been shown to reverse neurodegeneration phenotypes,
indicating the crucial importance of abnormal-protein build up as
the crucial cause of neurodegenerative diseases. The build-up of these
proteins are associated with a decline of protein degradation capacity of
the cells, and consequently therapeutic strategies have been developed,
and more are under development to enhance the clearance of these
abnormal proteins by two major cellular protein degradation systems:
the Ubiquitin-Proteasome System (UPS) [2] and the autophagylysosomal system [3]. In this editorial I would like to briefly review
our current knowledge about the role of protein degradation systems
in the development and therapy of neurodegenerative diseases. I will
particularly focus on the cellular process of protein aggregation via key
factors such as p97/VCP, p62, and HDAC6.
Cellular Protein Degradation Systems
Development of Neurodegenerative Diseases
There are two major protein degradation systems in the cells. The
UPS carries out degradation of mostly cellular proteins, particularly
proteins marked by K48-linked poly-ubiquitination [2]. Degradation
via the UPS is highly selective due to the ubiquitination of selected
substrates by over 600 ubiquitin ligases [4]. The autophagy-lysosomal
system, on the other hand, degrades cellular components by enclosing
them in double-membrane autophagosomes, followed by subsequent
fusion with lysosomes. Although initially regarded as a non-selective
process that is activated during starvation to consume cellular
components in order to provide energy and amino acids for protein
synthesis [3], it is now accepted that autophagy can also select for
particular substrates due to the presence of substrate adapter proteins
such as p62 (aggrephagy [5]), Nix (mitophagy [6]), etc. The capacity
of both the UPS [7,8] and autophagy [9] declines with ageing thus
corresponds well with the association of neurodegenerative diseases
with the elderly population. Therefore, it has been speculated that the
decline of cellular protein degradation capacity may drive aggregate
formation and promote neurodegeneration [9,10]. In 1987, ubiquitin
was first identified in tau aggregates in Alzheimer’s disease, first
linking UPS with aggregate formation [11], and now it is evident that
ubiquitin is present in almost every type of such protein aggregates.
However, there lacks solid evidence for the hypothesis that proteasome
dysfunction causes neurodegenerative diseases. In 2004, it was reported
that in a mouse model, chronic exposure to proteasome inhibitors
causes the build-up of α-synuclein in neurons and the emergence
of Parkinson’s disease symptoms [12]. Unfortunately, other groups
cannot reproduce their results [13]. On the other hand, the build-up of
aggregates may block proteasome functioning. It is proposed that the
accumulation of ubiquitinated species in Alzheimer’s disease is a result
J Develop Drugs
ISSN: 2329-6631 JDD an open access journal
of the inhibition of proteasome activity caused by Aβ peptides [14], and
excessive levels of oxidized proteins inhibit proteasomal degradation
probably by clogging the proteasome [15]. In fact, the emergence of
aggregation-prone proteins are frequently associated with their point
mutations (e.g. TDP-43 (M337V and Q331K) [16], α-synuclein (A53T,
A30P) [17]), and poly-Q expansion (Huntingtin [18], ataxin-3 [19])
that makes them prone to aggregation but becomes poor substrates
of the proteasome. Therefore, it appears unlikely that proteasome
dysfunction is a major driving force for neurodegenerative diseases. By
contrast, the importance of autophagy defects in the development of
neurodegenerative diseases appears more prominent. Separate groups
have demonstrated that inactivation of autophagy by neuron-specific
knock-out key autophagy factors Atg5 [20] and Atg7 [21] promoted
neurodegeneration in mouse models. The autophagic poly-ubiquitin
binding protein p62 is found in most aggregates [22], and acetylation
of PolyQ Htt enhances its degradation by autophagy [23].
Targeting Cellular Protein Degradation Systems in
Neurodegenerative Diseases Therapy
Targeting particular aggregation-prone proteins to increase
their solubility or reduce their cellular levels has been a strategy for
neurodegenerative disease therapy. For example, Homotaurine
(Tramiprosat), which promotes the solubility of Aβ, and Tarenflurbil
(R-flurbiprofen), which reduces the cellular level of Aβ, have entered
clinical trials for the treatment of Alzheimer’s diseases. Unfortunately,
these agents did not reverse the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s
disease patients in Phase III clinical trials [24]. This unsatisfactory
outcome is related to the fact that neurodegenerative diseases are
frequently caused by multiple types of aggregation-prone proteins. For
example, both Aβ and tau are pathogens of Alzheimer’s disease, and
α-synuclein, which is best known for its role in forming Lewy bodies
in Parkinson’s disease, also contributes to 50% of Alzheimer’s disease
[25]. Consequently, targeting particular aggregation-prone protein
may not be the most efficient therapeutic strategy. However, since
UPS and autophagy clearly correlate with a build-up of aggregationprone proteins, targeting these two protein degradation pathways is
also become an important strategy to treat neurodegenerative diseases.
Several activators of autophagy, such as CCI-779 (a rapamycin analog,
[26]), Trehalose [27], Rilmenidine [28] have been shown in preclinical
mouse studies to be able to alleviate neurodegeneration caused
by PolyQ proteins. These strategies all target the initiating step of
autophagy to promote the generation and assembly of autophagosomes
to elevate the activity of general autophagy in the cells. Although
these strategies have proven efficient in clearing aggregates and also
*Corresponding author: Zhe Sha, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical
School, 240 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA, 02118, USA, Tel: 832-597-5677;
E-mail: [email protected]
Received March 25, 2014; Accepted March 26, 2014; Published March 28, 2014
Citation: Sha Z (2014) Important Factors in the Formation and Clearance of
Protein Aggregation. J Develop Drugs 3: e136. doi:10.4172/2329-6631.1000e136
Copyright: © 2014 Sha Z. This is an open-access article distributed under the
terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and
source are credited.
Volume 3 • Issue 1 • 1000e136
Citation: Sha Z (2014) Important Factors in the Formation and Clearance of Protein Aggregation. J Develop Drugs 3: e136. doi:10.4172/23296631.1000e136
Page 2 of 4
damaged mitochondria (which generates reactive oxygen species and
contributes to killing of neurons [1]), several undesired effects can also
be caused by such a general elevation of autophagy. Hyper-activated
autophagy by itself can cause autophagic cell death, and it has been
shown that autophagy activation can promote the production of Aβ
[29]. On the other hand, strategies to enhance proteasome activity to
promote the degradation of aggregation –prone proteins are also under
development. Finley et al. reported that inhibiting the proteasomeassociated deubiquitinase Usp14 with a small molecule inhibitor IU-1
[30] can not only enhance ubiquitin-dependent protein degradation,
but intriguingly, can also promote the degradation of aggregationprone proteins such as tau or Atx3-PolyQ. Usp14 normally binds polyubiquitin chains of proteasome-associated substrates and cleaves from
the distal end individual ubiquitins from the chain. Such shortening of
ubiquitin chains may eventually cause the dissociation of ubiquitinated
proteins from the proteasome to prevent their degradation. There are
other strategies through which proteasome activities can be enhanced.
For example, PKA and CaMKII-mediated phosphorylation of Rpt6
has been shown to promote proteasome activities in the cells [31,32].
Conversely, the phosphatase UBLCP1 dephosphorylates nuclear
proteasomes and cause a decline of their activities [33]. Recently,
it was found that tankyrase mediates ADP-ribosylation of PI31, a
proteasome-associated inhibitory factor. This results in the dissociation
of PI31 from 20S proteasome and an elevation proteasome activity in
the cells [34]. These are promising strategies that have not yet reached
clinical trials.
Important Factors Involved in Aggregation Formation
and Clearance
Although raising the general levels of proteasome or autophagy
activity are promising therapeutic strategy, such manipulations may
profoundly affect many cellular functions since proteasome and
autophagy controls almost every aspects of cellular functions. By
contrast, it will be a more targeted approach to enhance the formation
and clearance of aggregates, because these aggregates contain most
harmful pathogenic proteins, and our understanding of key steps of
aggregation formation and clearance has opened such possibilities to
target these processes.
There is controversy concerning the location of these aggregates
in the cells. Most studies report a single peri-nuclear aggresomes
that contains not only ubiquitin but also the autophagy adaptor LC3
[35]. Kaganovich et al. [36] reported a new model in which protein
aggregations form in two distinct compartments of the cells. One
compartment (JUNQ, juxtanuclear quality control) is perinuclear,
which contains proteasomes but not LC3, while the other compartment
(IPOD, insoluble protein deposit) is located in the periphery of the
cells, which contains no proteasomes but LC3 [36]. That study reports
that proteins that cannot be easily folded are more likely to distribute
to IPOD while JUNQ is a compartment in which cells attempt to
refold or degrade the aggregated proteins. A subsequent report also
demonstrated that different aggregation-prone proteins tend to
distribute to different compartments. For example, while mutant
SOD1 and poly-A containing proteins aggregate at JUNQ, insoluble
proteins such as poly-Q containing proteins aggregate at IPOD instead
[37]. Consequently, IPOD, but not JUNQ, resembles the aggresomes
that are subsequently degraded by autophagy, but not proteasome.
No studies have investigated the relationship between JUNQ, IPOD,
and the perinuclear aggresome, but the difference between IPOD
and aggresome may be due to whether or not the aggregate has been
transported to the perinuclear region via HDAC6 (see below).
There are four autophagic receptors in human cells that bind
J Develop Drugs
ISSN: 2329-6631 JDD an open access journal
poly-ubiquitinated proteins [3]. Among them, p62 is most extensively
studied and its role in causing the aggregation of poly-ubiquitin
conjugates has been well established [5]. p62 contains an UbiquitinAssociation (UBA) domain that binds poly-ubiquitin chains, and
also an N-terminal PB1 domain to allow oligomerization. In this
process, p62 promotes the aggregation of poly-ubiquitin conjugates.
Furthermore, p62 also associates with key autophagy factors such
as LC3 (Atg8 in yeast) that are bound on the membrane of growing
autophagosomes [5], thus promoting the sorting of these aggregates
into autophagosomes for degradation. These properties of p62 make it
an attractive target to pharmaceutically activate in order to clear polyubiquitinated aggregates by autophagy, but not affecting autophagy
generally. Regulating the phosphorylation of p62 appears to be an
effective way. Phosphorylation of p62 at S403 by Casein Kinase 2 (CK2)
[38] or TBK1 [39] promotes its ability to sort ubiquitin conjugates into
aggresomes, while its phosphorylation at S351 by mTORC1 appears
to promote an anti-oxidant transcriptional response by activating
the transcription factor Nrf2 [40], which is also cytoprotective by
inducing the expression of anti-oxidant enzymes and interestingly, also
proteasome subunits [41] and p62 [42].
p97 is an AAA-ATPase with important function in ubiquitindependent degradation. It utilizes ATP to extract ubiquitinated
proteins from the endoplasmic reticulum [43] or large protein
structures such as myofibrils [44] and chromatin [45] to facilitate their
degradation. Intriguingly, p97 was recently shown to be also important
for the aggregation of poly-ubiquitinated proteins. In Inclusion
Body Myopathy with Paget’s disease and Fronto temporal Dementia
(IBMPFD) model harboring dominant-negative p97 mutations that
abolish its ATPase activity, cells fail to form a single perinuclear
aggresome. Instead, PolyQ proteins were aggregated in several
dispersed aggregates around the cells [46,47]. These aggregates also
contain ubiquitin, LC3, and p62, but are defective in being delivered
to autophagolysosomes for degradation [46,47]. Therefore, p97 also
promotes the aggregation and degradation of abnormal proteins.
Another important factor is HDAC6, a deacetylase that plays
important roles in various steps of aggregation formation and clearance.
First, HDAC6 can interact with poly-ubiquitin conjugates (via its ZnfUBP domain) and microtubule dyneins simultaneously [48,49]. These
interactions, together with the deacetylation of α-Tubulin by HDAC6
[50], promote the transport of poly-ubiquitin conjugates to the
perinuclear aggresome. This process apparently confines the ubiquitin
conjugates to a restricted cellular compartment and minimize its
damage to the cells. Next, HDAC6 deacetylates cortactin to promote
actin remodeling. This process facilitates the fusion of autophagosomes
and lysosomes for degradation [51]. HDAC6 can also promote the
protein folding by deacetylating Hsp90 to enhance its interaction with
cochaperone p23 and its chaperone function [52], or to dissociate
Hsp90 from HSF1 and cause the activation of the transcription factor
HSF1 to induce the expression of additional chaperones [53]. Via these
mechanisms, HDAC6 plays multifaceted roles in clearing abnormal
and aggregation-prone proteins.
While HDAC6, p62, and p97 are all important for aggresome
formation and clearance, the interaction between these molecules has
not been thoroughly studied and clearly merits major research efforts.
Binding of p62 to HDAC6 appears to enhance the deacetylase activity
of HDAC6 [54]. p97 also interacts with HDAC6. On the one hand,
p97 and HDAC6 appears to compete for binding to poly-ubiquitin
conjugates to determine whether the ubiquitinated protein will be
unfolded or aggregated [55]. On the other hand, expression of HDAC6
in cells harboring dominant-negative p97 mutation can facilitate
Volume 3 • Issue 1 • 1000e136
Citation: Sha Z (2014) Important Factors in the Formation and Clearance of Protein Aggregation. J Develop Drugs 3: e136. doi:10.4172/23296631.1000e136
Page 3 of 4
the sorting of aggregated Poly-Q proteins to autophagosomes for
degradation [46,47], indicating that these factors act closely to promote
the clearance of aggregated proteins by either the UPS or autophagy.
In addition, p97 participates also in the dissociation of Hsp90-HSF1
complex by HDAC6 to promote HSF1-dependent induction of
heat shock proteins [53]. Recently, Hao et al. reported an intriguing
mechanism that at aggregated proteins, Rpn11 (a metalloprotease
subunit that removes poly-ubiquitin chains from substrates en bloc
[56]) of the proteasome produces unanchored ubiquitin chains [57].
Upon binding these unanchored ubiquitin chains, HDAC6 is activated,
and subsequently deacetylate cortactin to promote the clearance of
aggregated proteins. These studies provide intriguing example of
the interaction between p62, HDAC6, and p97 in promoting the
aggregation and clearance of poly-ubiquitinated proteins that ought to
be investigated as a coherent system. Understanding of their synergistic
action is still in its infancy and further knowledge would provide
further guidance to therapeutically targeting these factors.
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Citation: Sha Z (2014) Important Factors in the Formation and Clearance of
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