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Concept: Importin


Active nuclear import of Ran exchange factor RCC1 is mediated by importin α3. This pathway is essential to generate a gradient of RanGTP on chromatin that directs nucleocytoplasmic transport, mitotic spindle assembly and nuclear envelope formation. Here we identify the mechanisms of importin α3 selectivity for RCC1. We find this isoform binds RCC1 with one order of magnitude higher affinity than the generic importin α1, although the two isoforms share an identical NLS-binding groove. Importin α3 uses its greater conformational flexibility to wedge the RCC1 β-propeller flanking the NLS against its lateral surface, preventing steric clashes with its Armadillo-core. Removing the β-propeller, or inserting a linker between NLS and β-propeller, disrupts specificity for importin α3, demonstrating the structural context rather than NLS sequence determines selectivity for isoform 3. We propose importin α3 evolved to recognize topologically complex NLSs that lie next to bulky domains or are masked by quaternary structures.Importin α3 facilitates the nuclear transport of the Ran guanine nucleotide exchange factor RCC1. Here the authors reveal the molecular basis for the selectivity of RCC1 for importin α3 vs the generic importin α1 and discuss the evolution of importin α isoforms.

Concepts: DNA, Cell nucleus, Molecular biology, Mitosis, Spindle apparatus, Nuclear localization signal, Ran, Importin


Human bocavirus (HBoV), closely related to canine minute virus (MVC) and bovine parvovirus (BPV), is a new member of the Bocavirus genus within the Parvoviridae family. The non-structural protein NP1 of HBoV is a nuclear localized protein and plays important role in DNA replication as well as in the evasion of host innate immunity. In the current study, we provide the first evidence that NP1 possesses a non-classical nuclear localization signal (ncNLS) (amino acids 7-50). Embedded within this ncNLS is a classical bipartite nuclear localization signal (cNLS) (amino acids 14-28), capable of promoting a heterologous cytoplasmic protein β-galactosidase fusion protein (β-gal-EGFP) to the nucleus via the classical importin α/β1-mediated pathway. Amino acids 7-50 containing the cNLS and the ncNLS of NP1 or full-length NP1 interact with importin α1, importin β1 and importin β1Δ which lacks the importin α binding domain, indicating that the nuclear import of NP1 is through both conventional importin α/β1 heterodimer- and non-classical importin β1-mediated pathways. Given that the arrangement of a cNLS embedded within an ncNLS is unusual in viral proteins, our data together reveal a novel molecular mechanism underlying the nuclear import of HBoV NP1, providing basis for further understanding its biological function.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Cell, Virus, Cell biology, Nuclear localization signal, Ran, Importin


The nuclear protein I(2)(PP2A)/SET, an endogenous inhibitor of protein phosphatase-2A (PP2A), is increased and translocated to the cytoplasm in the neurons of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brains, and PP2A activity in cytoplasm is compromised. However, it is not fully understood how SET is retained in the cytoplasm. By generating a phosphorylation site-specific antibody, we found in the present study that SET is phosphorylated at Ser9, by which it is accumulated in the cytoplasm of the AD brains. Further studies demonstrate that both the phosphor-mimic and casein kinase (CK)II-mediated phosphorylation at Ser9 interferes with the formation of the SET/importin-α/importin-β complex, and thus inhibits SET nuclear import and induces the cytoplasmic detention of SET. Interestingly, Ser9 is nested in the center of the sequence (6)AKVSKK(11) of SET, which is consistent with a classical nuclear localization signal (NLS). To test whether (6)AKVSKK(11) is a new NLS of SET, we mutated SET lysine 7, lysine 10, and lysine 11 to alanine acid (K7A, K10A, K11A) respectively, and expressed these mutants in HEK293/tau cells. We found that expression of SET (K11A) led to a nuclear import defect of SET, and application of a synthesized peptide Tat-AAKVSKKE that can competitively bind to importin α/β resulted in cytoplasmic detention of SET. Finally, phosphorylation of SET aggravates PP2A inhibition and leads to tau hyperphosphorylation. In conclusion, the current study has identified a novel mechanism that causes cytoplasmic detention of SET with a new NLS-dependent CKII-associated phosphorylation of Ser9, suggesting that inhibition of CKII arrests cytoplasmic accumulation of SET and thus preserves PP2A activity in AD brains.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Protein, Cell nucleus, Cell biology, Peptide, Nuclear localization signal, Ran, Importin


During antiviral defense, interferon (IFN) signaling triggers nuclear transport of tyrosine-phosphorylated STAT1 (PY-STAT1), which occurs via a subset of karyopherin alpha (KPNA) nuclear transporters. Many viruses, including Ebola virus, actively antagonize STAT1 signaling to counteract the antiviral effects of IFN. Ebola virus VP24 protein (eVP24) binds KPNA to inhibit PY-STAT1 nuclear transport and render cells refractory to IFNs. We describe the structure of human KPNA5 C terminus in complex with eVP24. In the complex, eVP24 recognizes a unique nonclassical nuclear localization signal (NLS) binding site on KPNA5 that is necessary for efficient PY-STAT1 nuclear transport. eVP24 binds KPNA5 with very high affinity to effectively compete with and inhibit PY-STAT1 nuclear transport. In contrast, eVP24 binding does not affect the transport of classical NLS cargo. Thus, eVP24 counters cell-intrinsic innate immunity by selectively targeting PY-STAT1 nuclear import while leaving the transport of other cargo that may be required for viral replication unaffected.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Virus, Innate immune system, Cell biology, Interferon, Ran, Importin


Nucleocytoplasmic transport is sustained by karyopherins (Kaps) and a Ran guanosine triphosphate (RanGTP) gradient that imports nuclear localization signal (NLS)-specific cargoes (NLS-cargoes) into the nucleus. However, how nuclear pore complex (NPC) barrier selectivity, Kap traffic, and NLS-cargo release are systematically linked and simultaneously regulated remains incoherent. In this study, we show that Kapα facilitates Kapβ1 turnover and occupancy at the NPC in a RanGTP-dependent manner that is directly coupled to NLS-cargo release and NPC barrier function. This is underpinned by the binding affinity of Kapβ1 to phenylalanine-glycine nucleoporins (FG Nups), which is comparable with RanGTP·Kapβ1, but stronger for Kapα·Kapβ1. On this basis, RanGTP is ineffective at releasing standalone Kapβ1 from NPCs. Depleting Kapα·Kapβ1 by RanGTP further abrogates NPC barrier function, whereas adding back Kapβ1 rescues it while Kapβ1 turnover softens it. Therefore, the FG Nups are necessary but insufficient for NPC barrier function. We conclude that Kaps constitute integral constituents of the NPC whose barrier, transport, and cargo release functionalities establish a continuum under a mechanism of Kap-centric control.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Cell biology, Nuclear pore, Nuclear localization signal, Cargo, Ran, Nuclear export signal, Importin


Liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) is believed to underlie formation of biomolecular condensates, cellular compartments that concentrate macromolecules without surrounding membranes. Physical mechanisms that control condensate formation/dissolution are poorly understood. The RNA-binding protein fused in sarcoma (FUS) undergoes LLPS in vitro and associates with condensates in cells. We show that the importin karyopherin-β2/transportin-1 inhibits LLPS of FUS. This activity depends on tight binding of karyopherin-β2 to the C-terminal proline-tyrosine nuclear localization signal (PY-NLS) of FUS. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analyses reveal weak interactions of karyopherin-β2 with sequence elements and structural domains distributed throughout the entirety of FUS. Biochemical analyses demonstrate that most of these same regions also contribute to LLPS of FUS. The data lead to a model where high-affinity binding of karyopherin-β2 to the FUS PY-NLS tethers the proteins together, allowing multiple, distributed weak intermolecular contacts to disrupt FUS self-association, blocking LLPS. Karyopherin-β2 may act analogously to control condensates in diverse cellular contexts.

Concepts: Protein, Cell biology, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Biochemistry, Nuclear localization signal, Ran, Nuclear export signal, Importin


Alpha solenoid proteins play a key role in regulating the classical nuclear import pathway, recognizing a target protein and transporting it into the nucleus. Importin-α (Impα) is the solenoid responsible for cargo protein recognition, and it has been extensively studied by X-ray crystallography to understand the binding specificity. To comprehend the main motions of Impα and to extend the information about the critical interactions during carrier-cargo recognition, we surveyed different conformational states based on molecular dynamics (MD) and normal mode (NM) analyses. Our model of study was a crystallographic structure of Impα complexed with the classical nuclear localization sequence (cNLS) from nucleoplasmin (Npl), which was submitted to multiple 100 ns of MD simulations. Representative conformations were selected for calculating the 87 lowest frequencies NMs of vibration, and a displacement approach was applied along each NM. Based on geometric criteria, using the radius of curvature and inter-repeat angles as the reference metrics, the main motions of Impα were described. Moreover, we determined the salt bridges, hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions in the Impα-NplNLS interface. Our results show the bending and twisting motions participating in the recognition of nuclear proteins, allowing the accommodation and adjustment of a classical bipartite NLS sequence. The essential contacts for the nuclear import were also described and were mostly in agreement with previous studies, suggesting that the residues in the cNLS linker region establish important contacts with Impα adjusting the cNLS backbone. The MD simulations combined with NM analysis can be applied to the Impα-NLS system to help understand interactions between Impα and cNLSs and the analysis of non-classic NLSs.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Crystallography, Molecular dynamics, Cell biology, Ran, Nuclear export signal, Importin


The human RNA-editing enzyme adenosine deaminase acting on RNA (ADAR1) carries a unique nuclear localization signal (NLS) that overlaps one of its double-stranded RNA-binding domains (dsRBDs). This dsRBD-NLS is recognized by the nuclear import receptor transportin 1 (Trn1; also called karyopherin-β2) in an RNA-sensitive manner. Most Trn1 cargos bear a well-characterized proline-tyrosine-NLS, which is missing from the dsRBD-NLS. Here, we report the structure of the dsRBD-NLS, which reveals an unusual dsRBD fold extended by an additional N-terminal α-helix that brings the N- and C-terminal flanking regions in close proximity. We demonstrate experimentally that the atypical ADAR1-NLS is bimodular and is formed by the combination of the two flexible fragments flanking the folded domain. The intervening dsRBD acts only as an RNA-sensing scaffold, allowing the two NLS modules to be properly positioned for interacting with Trn1. We also provide a structural model showing how Trn1 can recognize the dsRBD-NLS and how dsRNA binding can interfere with Trn1 binding.

Concepts: Protein, Cell biology, Adenosine deaminase, Molecular genetics, Nuclear localization signal, Ran, Nuclear export signal, Importin


Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a CAG expansion in theATXN3gene leading to a polyglutamine expansion in the ataxin-3 protein. The nuclear presence and aggregation of expanded ataxin-3 are critical steps in disease pathogenesis. To identify novel therapeutic targets, we investigated the nucleocytoplasmic transport system by screening a collection of importins and exportins that potentially modulate this nuclear localization. Using cell,Drosophila, and mouse models, we focused on three transport proteins, namely, CRM1, IPO13, KPNA3, and their respectiveDrosophilaorthologs Emb, Cdm, and Kap-α3. While overexpression of CRM1/Emb demonstrated positive effects inDrosophila, KPNA3/Kap-α3 emerged as the most promising target, as knockdown via multiple RNAi lines demonstrated its ability to shuttle both truncated and full-length expanded ataxin-3, rescue neurodegeneration, restore photoreceptor formation, and reduce aggregation. Furthermore,KPNA3knockout in SCA3 mice resulted in an amelioration of molecular and behavioral disturbances such as total activity, anxiety, and gait. Since KPNA3 is known to function as an import protein and recognize nuclear localization signals (NLSs), this work unites ataxin-3 structure to the nuclear pore machinery and provides a link between karyopherins, NLS signals, and polyglutamine disease, as well as demonstrates that KPNA3 is a key player in the pathogenesis of SCA3.

Concepts: Neurodegeneration, Neurodegenerative disorders, Mice, Spinocerebellar ataxia, Neurodegenerative diseases, Importin, KPNB1, Karyopherin


We recently reported that a bifunctional nuclear transport modifier (NTM), cSN50.1 peptide, reduced atherosclerosis, plasma cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose along with liver fat and inflammatory markers, in a murine model of familial hypercholesterolemia. We determined that cSN50.1 improved lipid homeostasis by modulating nuclear transport of sterol regulatory element-binding proteins through interaction with importin β. Previous studies established that cSN50.1 and related NTMs also modulate nuclear transport of proinflammatory transcription factors mediated by binding of their nuclear localization sequences (NLSs) to importins/karyopherins α. However, selectivity and specificity of NTMs for importins/karyopherins α were undetermined.

Concepts: Cholesterol, Inflammation, Protein, Metabolism, Atherosclerosis, Cell biology, Ran, Importin