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Concept: PHLPP


Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties. Tocopherols are the predominant form of vitamin E found in the diet and in supplements and have garnered interest for their potential cancer therapeutic and preventive effects, such as the dephosphorylation of Akt, a serine/threonine kinase with a pivotal role in cell growth, survival, and metabolism. Dephosphorylation of Akt at Ser(473) substantially reduces its catalytic activity and inhibits downstream signaling. We found that the mechanism by which α-tocopherol and γ-tocopherol facilitate this site-specific dephosphorylation of Akt was mediated through the pleckstrin homology (PH) domain-dependent recruitment of Akt and PHLPP1 (PH domain leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase, isoform 1) to the plasma membrane. We structurally optimized these tocopherols to obtain derivatives with greater in vitro potency and in vivo tumor-suppressive activity in two prostate xenograft tumor models. Binding affinities for the PH domains of Akt and PHLPP1 were greater than for other PH domain-containing proteins, which may underlie the preferential recruitment of these proteins to membranes containing tocopherols. Molecular modeling revealed the structural determinants of the interaction with the PH domain of Akt that may inform strategies for continued structural optimization. By describing a mechanism by which tocopherols facilitate the dephosphorylation of Akt at Ser(473), we provide insights into the mode of antitumor action of tocopherols and a rationale for the translational development of tocopherols into novel PH domain-targeted Akt inhibitors.

Concepts: Protein, Cell membrane, Protein structure, Antioxidant, Signal transduction, Metabolism, PHLPP, Enzyme


Calpain has been shown to be involved in neurodegeneration, and in particular in retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death resulting from increased intraocular pressure (IOP) and ischemia. However, the specific roles of the two major calpain isoforms, calpain-1 and calpain-2, in RGC death have not been investigated. Here, we show that calpain-1 and calpain-2 were sequentially activated in RGC dendrites after acute IOP elevation. By combining the use of a selective calpain-2 inhibitor (C2I) and calpain-1 KO mice, we demonstrated that calpain-1 activity supported survival, while calpain-2 activity promoted cell death of RGCs after IOP elevation. Calpain-1 activation cleaved PH domain and leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase 1 (PHLPP1) and activated the Akt pro-survival pathway, while calpain-2 activation cleaved striatal-enriched protein tyrosine phosphatase (STEP) and activated STEP-mediated pro-death pathway in RGCs after IOP elevation. Systemic or intravitreal C2I injection to wild-type mice 2h after IOP elevation promoted RGC survival and improved visual function. Our data indicate that calpain-1 and calpain-2 play opposite roles in high IOP-induced ischemic injury and that a selective calpain-2 inhibitor could prevent acute glaucoma-induced RGC death and blindness.

Concepts: Ischemia, Retina, Ischemic cascade, Gene, EC 3.1.3, PHLPP, Enzyme, PTEN


In order for cancer cells to survive during metastasis, they must overcome anoikis, a caspase-dependent cell death process triggered by extracellular matrix (ECM) detachment, and rectify detachment-induced metabolic defects that compromise cell survival. However, the precise signals used by cancer cells to facilitate their survival during metastasis remain poorly understood. We have discovered that oncogenic Ras facilitates the survival of ECM-detached cancer cells by using distinct effector pathways to regulate metabolism and block anoikis. Surprisingly, we find that while Ras-mediated phosphatidylinositol (3)-kinase signaling is critical for rectifying ECM-detachment-induced metabolic deficiencies, the critical downstream effector is serum and glucocorticoid-regulated kinase-1 (SGK-1) rather than Akt. Our data also indicate that oncogenic Ras blocks anoikis by diminishing expression of the phosphatase PHLPP1 (PH Domain and Leucine-Rich Repeat Protein Phosphatase 1), which promotes anoikis through the activation of p38 MAPK. Thus, our study represents a novel paradigm whereby oncogene-initiated signal transduction can promote the survival of ECM-detached cells through divergent downstream effectors.Cell Death and Differentiation advance online publication, 26 February 2016; doi:10.1038/cdd.2016.15.

Concepts: Metastasis, Cytosol, PHLPP, Gene expression, Apoptosis, Organism, Protein, Enzyme


The relative abundance of phosphoinositide (PI) species on the phagosome membrane fluctuates over the course of phagocytosis. PtdIns(3,4,5)P3 and PtdIns(3,4)P2 rapidly increase in the forming of the phagocytic cup, following which they disappear after sealing of the cup. In the present study, we monitored the clearance of these PI species using the enhanced green fluorescent protein-fused pleckstrin homology domain of Akt, a fluorescence probe that binds both PtdIns(3,4,5)P3 and PtdIns(3,4)P2 in Raw 264.7 macrophages. The clearance of PIs was much faster when the phagocytosed particles were coated with IgG. The effect of IgG was not observed in the macrophages deficient in FcγRIIb, an inhibitory IgG receptor. To identify the lipid phosphatases responsible for the FcγRIIb-accelerated PI clearance, we prepared a panel of lipid phosphatase-deficient cells. The lack of a PI 5-phosphatase Src homology 2 domain-containing inositol-5-phosphatase (SHIP)1 or SHIP2 impaired the FcγRIIb-accelerated clearance of PIs. The lack of a PI 4-phosphatase Inpp4a also impaired the accelerated PIs clearance. In the FcγRIIb- and Inpp4a-deficient cells, acidification of the formed phagosome was slowed. These results suggested that FcγRIIb drives the sequential dephosphorylation system comprising SHIPs and Inpp4a, and accelerates phagosome acidification.

Concepts: PHLPP, Phagolysosome, Protein, Phagosome, Phosphoinositide 3-kinase, Phagocytosis, Pleckstrin homology domain, Immune system


In the decade since their discovery, the PH domain leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatases (PHLPP) have emerged as critical regulators of cellular homeostasis, and their dysregulation is associated with various pathophysiologies, ranging from cancer to degenerative diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. The two PHLPP isozymes, PHLPP1 and PHLPP2, were identified in a search for phosphatases that dephosphorylate Akt, and thus suppress growth factor signaling. However, given that there are over 200 000 phosphorylated residues in a single cell, and fewer than 50 Ser/Thr protein phosphatases, it is not surprising that PHLPP has many other cellular functions yet to be discovered, including a recently identified role in regulating the epigenome. Both PHLPP1 and PHLPP2 are commonly deleted in human cancers, supporting a tumor suppressive role. Conversely, the levels of one isozyme, PHLPP1, are elevated in diabetes. Thus, mechanisms to correctly control PHLPP activity in cells are critical for normal cellular homeostasis. This review summarizes the known functions of PHLPP and its role in disease.

Concepts: Disease, EC 3.1.3, AKT, Pleckstrin homology domain, Enzyme, Signal transduction, Cancer, PHLPP


The proper establishment of epithelial polarity allows cells to sense and respond signals that arise from the microenvironment in a spatiotemporally controlled manner. Atypical PKCs (aPKCs) are implicated as key regulators of epithelial polarity. However, the molecular mechanism underlying the negative regulation of aPKCs remains largely unknown. In this study, we demonstrated that PH domain leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase (PHLPP), a novel family of Ser/Thr protein phosphatases, plays an important role in regulating epithelial polarity by controlling the phosphorylation of both aPKC isoforms. Altered expression of PHLPP1 or PHLPP2 disrupted polarization of Caco2 cells grown in 3D as indicated by the formation of aberrant multi-lumen structures. Overexpression of PHLPP resulted in a decrease in aPKC phosphorylation at both the activation loop and the turn motif sites; conversely, knockdown of PHLPP increased aPKC phosphorylation. Moreover, in vitro dephosphorylation experiments revealed that both aPKC isoforms were substrates of PHLPP. Interestingly, knockdown of PKCζ, but not PKCι, led to similar disruption of the polarized lumen structure, suggesting that PKCζ likely controls the polarization process of Caco2 cells. Furthermore, knockdown of PHLPP altered the apical membrane localization of aPKCs and reduced the formation of aPKC-Par3 complex. Taken together, our results identify a novel role of PHLPP in regulating aPKC and cell polarity.

Concepts: Protein kinase, Protein structure, Adenosine triphosphate, PHLPP, Phosphatase, Kinase, Signal transduction, Enzyme


Akt is a critical mediator of the oncogenic PI3K pathway, and its activation is regulated by kinases and phosphatases acting in opposition. We report here the existence of a novel protein complex that is composed minimally of Akt, PHLPP1, PHLPP2, FANCI, FANCD2, USP1 and UAF1. Our studies show that depletion of FANCI, but not FANCD2 or USP1, results in increased phosphorylation and activation of Akt. This activation is due to a reduction in the interaction between PHLPP1 and Akt in the absence of FANCI. In response to DNA damage or growth factor treatment, the interactions between Akt, PHLPP1 and FANCI are reduced consistent with the known phosphorylation of Akt in response to these stimuli. Furthermore, depletion of FANCI results in reduced apoptosis after DNA damage in accord with its role as a negative regular of Akt. Our findings describe an unexpected function for FANCI in the regulation of Akt and define a previously unrecognized intersection between the PI3K-Akt and FA pathways.

Concepts: DNA, Regulation, Kinase, PHLPP, Enzyme, AKT, Adenosine triphosphate, Signal transduction


Insulin protects cardiomyocytes from myocardial ischemia/reperfusion (MI/R) injury through activating Akt. However, phosphatase PHLPP-1 (PH domain leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase-1) dephosphorylates and inactivates Akt. The balanced competitive interaction of insulin and PHLPP-1 has not been directly examined. In this study, we have identified the effect of mutual inhibition of insulin signaling and PHLPP-1 on the cardioprotective efficiency of Akt in aged heart. Young (3 mon) and aged (20 mon) Sprague Dawley (SD) rats were subjected to MI/Rin vivo. The PHLPP-1 level was higher in aged vs. young hearts at base. But, insulin treatment failed to decrease PHLPP-1 level during reperfusion in the aged hearts. Consequently, the cardioprotection of insulin-induced Akt activation was impaired in aged hearts, resulting in more susceptible to MI/R injury. In cultured rat ventricular myocytes, PHLPP-1 knockdown significantly enhanced insulin-induced Akt phosphorylation and reduced simulated hypoxia/reoxygenation-induced apoptosis. Contrary, PHLPP-1 overexpression terminated Akt phosphorylation and deteriorated myocytes apoptosis. Using in vivo aged animal models, we confirmed that cardiac PHLPP-1 knockdown or enhanced insulin sensitivity by exercise training dramatically increased insulin-induced Akt phosphorylation. Specifically, MI/R-induced cardiomyocyte apoptosis and infarct size were decreased and cardiac function was increased. More importantly, we found that insulin regulated the degradation of PHLPP-1 and insulin treatment could enhance the binding between PHLPP-1 and β-transducin repeat-containing protein (β-TrCP) to target for ubiquitin-dependent degradation. Altogether, we have identified a new mechanism by which insulin suppresses PHLPP-1 to enhance Akt activation. But, aged heart possesses lower insulin effectiveness and fails to decrease PHLPP-1 during MI/R, which subsequently limited Akt activity and cardioprotection. PHLPP-1 could be a promising therapeutic interventional target for elderly ischemic heart disease patients.

Concepts: Circulatory system, Heart disease, Signal transduction, Ischemia, AKT, PHLPP, Cardiac muscle, Heart


A common feature of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the loss of intestinal epithelial barrier function due to excessive apoptosis of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs). However, the molecular mechanism underlying increased IEC apoptosis remains unclear. Here, we investigated the role of PHLPP, a novel family of protein phosphatates, in regulating inflammation-induced IEC apoptosis in mouse models of colitis. Both Phlpp1 and Phlpp2 genes were deleted in mice. Compared with wild-type mice, PHLPP double knockout (DKO) mice were protected from colitis induced by DSS as demonstrated by lower histopathological scores, and this reduced susceptibility to colitis was associated with decreased apoptosis and increased Akt activity in IECs in vivo. In addition, epithelial organoids derived from PHLPP DKO mice were more resistant to inflammation-induced apoptosis while inhibition of Akt activity abolished the protective effect of PHLPP-loss. Furthermore, we found that PHLPP expression was significantly reduced in IECs following the induction of colitis by DSS and in human IBD patient samples. This inflammation-induced downregulation of PHLPP was partially blocked by treating cells with a proteasome inhibitor. Taken together, our results indicated that proteasome-mediated degradation of PHLPP at the onset of inflammation plays an important role in protecting IEC injury by inhibiting apoptosis.

Concepts: PHLPP, Protection, Immune system, Ulcerative colitis, Inflammatory bowel disease, Intestinal epithelium, Gene, Epithelium


Serine/threonine kinase Akt is a downstream effector of insulin receptor/PI3K pathway that is involved in many processes, including providing neuroprotection to stressed rod photoreceptor cells. Akt signaling is known to be regulated by the serine/threonine phosphatases, PHLPP (PH domain and leucine rich repeat protein phosphatase) and PHLPPL (PH domain and leucine rich repeat protein phosphatase-like). We previously reported that both phosphatases are expressed in the retina, as well as in photoreceptor cells. In this study, we examined the PHLPP and PHLPPL phosphatase activities towards non-physiological and physiological substrates. Our results suggest that PHLPP was more active than PHLPPL towards non-physiological substrates, whereas both PHLPP and PHLPP dephosphorylated the physiological substrates of Akt1 and Akt3 with similar efficiencies. Our results also suggest that knockdown of PHLPPL alone does not increase Akt phosphorylation, due to a compensatory increase of PHLPP, which results in the dephosphorylation of Akt. Therefore, PHLPP and PHLPPL regulate Akt activation together when both phosphatases are expressed.

Concepts: Rod cell, PTEN, PHLPP, Phosphatase, Signal transduction, Kinase, AKT, Enzyme