Fine-tuning of ULK1 mRNA and protein levels is required for autophagy oscillation.
ABSTRACT: Autophagy is an intracellular degradation pathway whose levels are tightly controlled to secure cell homeostasis. Unc-51-like kinase 1 (ULK1) is a conserved serine-threonine kinase that plays a central role in the initiation of autophagy. Here, we report that upon autophagy progression, ULK1 protein levels are specifically down-regulated by the E3 ligase NEDD4L, which ubiquitylates ULK1 for degradation by the proteasome. However, whereas ULK1 protein is degraded, ULK1 mRNA is actively transcribed. Upon reactivation of mTOR-dependent protein synthesis, basal levels of ULK1 are promptly restored, but the activity of newly synthesized ULK1 is inhibited by mTOR. This prepares the cell for a new possible round of autophagy stimulation. Our results thus place NEDD4L and ULK1 in a key position to control oscillatory activation of autophagy during prolonged stress to keep the levels of this process under a safe and physiological threshold.
Project description:In mammals, autophagosome formation is initiated by ULK1 via the posttranslational modification of this protein. However, the precise role of ULK1 ubiquitination in modulating autophagy is unknown. Here, we show that NEDD4L, an E3 ubiquitin ligase, binds ULK1 in pancreatic cancer cells. ULK1 expression was stabilized in NEDD4L knockdown cells compared to that in control cells, suggesting that NEDD4L is involved in ULK1 ubiquitination and its subsequent degradation. Autophagy activity was enhanced in NEDD4L knockdown cells compared to control cells. NEDD4L-depleted cells exhibited an increase in the cellular oxygen consumption rate (OCR) and mitochondrial membrane potential, and maintained mitochondrial fusion status in response to metabolic stress. Enhanced OCR and mitochondrial fusion morphology in NEDD4L knockdown cells were repressed by siRNA targeting ULK1. In addition to ULK1, ASCT2, a glutamine transporter, was accumulated in NEDD4L-depleted cells; this is important for maintaining autophagy activation and mitochondrial metabolic function. Finally, the cellular growth and survival rate increased in NEDD4L knockdown cells compared to control cells. However, the genetic or pharmacological blockade of either ULK1 or ASCT2 in NEDD4L-depleted cells sensitized pancreatic cancer cells, particularly in response to nutrient deprivation. In a mouse xenograft model of pancreatic cancer, the use of autophagy inhibitors suppressed tumor growth more in NEDD4L-depleted cells than in tumors from control cells. NEDD4L and ULK1 levels were inversely correlated in two different pancreatic cancer mouse models-xenograft mouse and KPC mouse models. These results suggest that NEDD4L suppressed autophagy and mitochondrial metabolism by reducing cellular ULK1 or ASCT2 levels, and thus could repress the growth and survival of pancreatic cancer cells. Therefore, ubiquitin ligase-mediated autophagy plays a critical role in regulating mitochondrial metabolism, thereby contributing to the growth and survival of certain cancers with low NEDD4L levels.
Project description:Autophagy involves the lysosomal degradation of cytoplasmic contents for regeneration of anabolic substrates during nutritional or inflammatory stress. Its initiation occurs rapidly after inactivation of the protein kinase mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) (or mechanistic target of rapamycin), leading to dephosphorylation of Unc-51-like kinase 1 (ULK1) and autophagosome formation. Recent studies indicate that mTOR can, in parallel, regulate the activity of stress transcription factors, including signal transducer and activator of transcription-1 (STAT1). The current study addresses the role of STAT1 as a transcriptional suppressor of autophagy genes and autophagic activity. We show that STAT1-deficient human fibrosarcoma cells exhibited enhanced autophagic flux as well as its induction by pharmacological inhibition of mTOR. Consistent with enhanced autophagy initiation, ULK1 mRNA and protein levels were increased in STAT1-deficient cells. By chromatin immunoprecipitation, STAT1 bound a putative regulatory sequence in the ULK1 5'-flanking region, the mutation of which increased ULK1 promoter activity, and rendered it unresponsive to mTOR inhibition. Consistent with an anti-apoptotic effect of autophagy, rapamycin-induced apoptosis and cytotoxicity were blocked in STAT1-deficient cells but restored in cells simultaneously exposed to the autophagy inhibitor ammonium chloride. In vivo, skeletal muscle ULK1 mRNA and protein levels as well as autophagic flux were significantly enhanced in STAT1-deficient mice. These results demonstrate a novel mechanism by which STAT1 negatively regulates ULK1 expression and autophagy.
Project description:Autophagy is an intracellular degradation system, by which cytoplasmic contents are degraded in lysosomes. Autophagy is dynamically induced by nutrient depletion to provide necessary amino acids within cells, thus helping them adapt to starvation. Although it has been suggested that mTOR is a major negative regulator of autophagy, how it controls autophagy has not yet been determined. Here, we report a novel mammalian autophagy factor, Atg13, which forms a stable approximately 3-MDa protein complex with ULK1 and FIP200. Atg13 localizes on the autophagic isolation membrane and is essential for autophagosome formation. In contrast to yeast counterparts, formation of the ULK1-Atg13-FIP200 complex is not altered by nutrient conditions. Importantly, mTORC1 is incorporated into the ULK1-Atg13-FIP200 complex through ULK1 in a nutrient-dependent manner and mTOR phosphorylates ULK1 and Atg13. ULK1 is dephosphorylated by rapamycin treatment or starvation. These data suggest that mTORC1 suppresses autophagy through direct regulation of the approximately 3-MDa ULK1-Atg13-FIP200 complex.
Project description:Poliovirus (PV), like many positive-strand RNA viruses, subverts the macroautophagy/autophagy pathway to promote its own replication. Here, we investigate whether the virus uses the canonical autophagic signaling complex, consisting of the ULK1/2 kinases, ATG13, RB1CC1, and ATG101, to activate autophagy. We find that the virus sends autophagic signals independent of the ULK1 complex, and that the members of the autophagic complex are not required for normal levels of viral replication. We also show that the SQSTM1/p62 receptor protein is not degraded in a conventional manner during infection, but is likely cleaved in a manner similar to that shown for coxsackievirus B3. This means that SQSTM1, normally used to monitor autophagic degradation, cannot be used to accurately monitor degradation during poliovirus infection. In fact, autophagic degradation may be affected by the loss of SQSTM1 at the same time as autophagic signals are being sent. Finally, we demonstrate that ULK1 and ULK2 protein levels are greatly reduced during PV infection, and ATG13, RB1CC1, and ATG101 protein levels are reduced as well. Surprisingly, autophagic signaling appears to increase as ULK1 levels decrease. Overexpression of wild-type or dominant-negative ULK1 constructs does not affect virus replication, indicating that ULK1 degradation may be a side effect of the ULK1-independent signaling mechanism used by PV, inducing complex instability. This demonstration of ULK1-independent autophagic signaling is novel and leads to a model by which the virus is signaling to generate autophagosomes downstream of ULK1, while at the same time, cleaving cargo receptors, which may affect cargo loading and autophagic degradative flux. Our data suggest that PV has a finely-tuned relationship with the autophagic machinery, generating autophagosomes without using the primary autophagy signaling pathway. ABBREVIATIONS:ACTB - actin beta; ATG13 - autophagy related 13; ATG14 - autophagy related 14; ATG101 - autophagy related 101; BECN1 - beclin 1; CVB3 - coxsackievirus B3; DMV - double-membraned vesicles; EM - electron microscopy; EMCV - encephalomyocarditis virus; EV-71 - enterovirus 71; FMDV - foot and mouth disease virus; GFP - green fluorescent protein; MAP1LC3B/LC3B - microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3 beta; MOI - multiplicity of infection; MTOR - mechanistic target of rapamycin kinase; PIK3C3 - phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase catalytic subunit type 3; PRKAA2 - protein kinase AMP-activated catalytic subunit alpha 2; PSMG1 - proteasome assembly chaperone 1; PSMG2 - proteasome assembly chaperone 2PV - poliovirus; RB1CC1 - RB1 inducible coiled-coil 1; SQSTM1 - sequestosome 1; ULK1 - unc-51 like autophagy activating kinase 1; ULK2 - unc-51 like autophagy activating kinase 2; WIPI1 - WD repeat domain, phosphoinositide interacting 1.
Project description:Autophagy represents an intracellular degradation process which is involved in both regular cell homeostasis and disease settings. In recent years, the molecular machinery governing this process has been elucidated. The ULK1 kinase complex consisting of the serine/threonine protein kinase ULK1 and the adapter proteins ATG13, RB1CC1, and ATG101, is centrally involved in the regulation of autophagy initiation. This complex is in turn regulated by the activity of different nutrient- or energy-sensing kinases, including MTOR, AMPK, and AKT. However, next to phosphorylation processes it has been suggested that ubiquitination of ULK1 positively influences ULK1 function. Here we report that the inhibition of deubiquitinases by the compound WP1130 leads to increased ULK1 ubiquitination, the transfer of ULK1 to aggresomes, and the inhibition of ULK1 activity. Additionally, WP1130 can block the autophagic flux. Thus, treatment with WP1130 might represent an efficient tool to inhibit the autophagy-initiating ULK1 complex and autophagy.
Project description:Many tumors become addicted to autophagy for survival, suggesting inhibition of autophagy as a potential broadly applicable cancer therapy. ULK1/Atg1 is the only serine/threonine kinase in the core autophagy pathway and thus represents an excellent drug target. Despite recent advances in the understanding of ULK1 activation by nutrient deprivation, how ULK1 promotes autophagy remains poorly understood. Here, we screened degenerate peptide libraries to deduce the optimal ULK1 substrate motif and discovered 15 phosphorylation sites in core autophagy proteins that were verified as in vivo ULK1 targets. We utilized these ULK1 substrates to perform a cell-based screen to identify and characterize a potent ULK1 small molecule inhibitor. The compound SBI-0206965 is a highly selective ULK1 kinase inhibitor in vitro and suppressed ULK1-mediated phosphorylation events in cells, regulating autophagy and cell survival. SBI-0206965 greatly synergized with mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors to kill tumor cells, providing a strong rationale for their combined use in the clinic.
Project description:Autophagy begins with the formation of autophagosomes, a process that depends on the activity of the serine/threonine kinase ULK1 (hATG1). Although earlier studies indicated that ULK1 activity is regulated by dynamic polyubiquitination, the deubiquitinase involved in the regulation of ULK1 remained unknown. In this study, we demonstrate that ubiquitin-specific protease 20 (USP20) acts as a positive regulator of autophagy initiation through stabilizing ULK1. At basal state, USP20 binds to and stabilizes ULK1 by removing the ubiquitin moiety, thereby interfering with the lysosomal degradation of ULK1. The stabilization of basal ULK1 protein levels is required for the initiation of starvation-induced autophagy, since the depletion of USP20 by RNA interference inhibits LC3 puncta formation, a marker of autophagic flux. At later stages of autophagy, USP20 dissociates from ULK1, resulting in enhanced ULK1 degradation and apoptosis. Taken together, our findings provide the first evidence that USP20 plays a crucial role in autophagy initiation by maintaining the basal expression level of ULK1.
Project description:Autophagy is a process by which components of the cell are degraded to maintain essential activity and viability in response to nutrient limitation. Extensive genetic studies have shown that the yeast ATG1 kinase has an essential role in autophagy induction. Furthermore, autophagy is promoted by AMP activated protein kinase (AMPK), which is a key energy sensor and regulates cellular metabolism to maintain energy homeostasis. Conversely, autophagy is inhibited by the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), a central cell-growth regulator that integrates growth factor and nutrient signals. Here we demonstrate a molecular mechanism for regulation of the mammalian autophagy-initiating kinase Ulk1, a homologue of yeast ATG1. Under glucose starvation, AMPK promotes autophagy by directly activating Ulk1 through phosphorylation of Ser 317 and Ser 777. Under nutrient sufficiency, high mTOR activity prevents Ulk1 activation by phosphorylating Ulk1 Ser 757 and disrupting the interaction between Ulk1 and AMPK. This coordinated phosphorylation is important for Ulk1 in autophagy induction. Our study has revealed a signalling mechanism for Ulk1 regulation and autophagy induction in response to nutrient signalling.
Project description:Autophagy describes an intracellular process responsible for the lysosome-dependent degradation of cytosolic components. The ULK1/2 complex comprising the kinase ULK1/2 and the accessory proteins ATG13, RB1CC1, and ATG101 has been identified as a central player in the autophagy network, and it represents the main entry point for autophagy-regulating kinases such as MTOR and AMPK. It is generally accepted that the ULK1 complex is constitutively assembled independent of nutrient supply. Here we report the characterization of the ATG13 region required for the binding of ULK1/2. This binding site is established by an extremely short peptide motif at the C terminus of ATG13. This motif is mandatory for the recruitment of ULK1 into the autophagy-initiating high-molecular mass complex. Expression of a ULK1/2 binding-deficient ATG13 variant in ATG13-deficient cells resulted in diminished but not completely abolished autophagic activity. Collectively, we propose that autophagy can be executed by mechanisms that are dependent or independent of the ULK1/2-ATG13 interaction.
Project description:The expression of the core autophagy kinase, Unc51-like kinase 1 (ULK1), is regulated transcriptionally and translationally by starvation-induced autophagy. However, how ULK1 is regulated during hypoxia is not well understood. Previously, we showed that ULK1 expression is induced by hypoxia stress. Here, we report a new ULK1-modulating microRNA, miR-93; its transcription is negatively correlated with the translation of ULK1 under hypoxic condition. miR-93 targets ULK1 and reduces its protein levels under hypoxia condition. miR-93 also inhibits hypoxia-induced autophagy by preventing LC3-I to LC3-II transition and P62 degradation; these processes are reversed by the overexpression of an endogenous miR-93 inhibitor. Re-expression of ULK1 without miR-93 response elements restores the hypoxia-induced autophagy which is inhibited by miR-93. Finally, we detected the effects of miR-93 on cell viability and apoptosis in noncancer cell lines and cancer cells. We found that miR-93 sustains the viability of MEFs (mouse embryonic fibroblasts) and inhibits its apoptosis under hypoxia. Thus, we conclude that miR-93 is involved in hypoxia-induced autophagy by regulating ULK1. Our results provide a new angle to understand the complicated regulation of the key autophagy kinase ULK1 during different stress conditions.