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Concept: Unfolded protein response


BACKGROUND: Stress of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) leading to activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and alveolar epithelial cell (AEC) apoptosis may play a role in the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Our objectives were to determine whether circulating caspase-cleaved cytokeratin-18 (cCK-18) is a marker of AEC apoptosis in IPF, define the relationship of cCK-18 with activation of the UPR, and assess its utility as a diagnostic biomarker. METHODS: IPF and normal lung tissues were stained with the antibody (M30) that specifically binds cCK-18. The relationship between markers of the UPR and cCK-18 was determined in AECs exposed in vitro to thapsigargin to induce ER stress. cCK-18 was measured in serum from subjects with IPF, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), nonspecific interstitial pneumonia (NSIP), and control subjects. RESULTS: cCK-18 immunoreactivity was present in AECs of IPF lung, but not in control subjects. Markers of the UPR (phosphorylated IRE-1alpha and spliced XBP-1) were more highly expressed in IPF type II AECs than in normal type II AECs. Phosphorylated IRE-1alpha and cCK-18 increased following thapsigargin-induced ER stress. Serum cCK-18 level distinguished IPF from diseased and control subjects. Serum cCK-18 was not associated with disease severity or outcome. CONCLUSIONS: cCK-18 may be a marker of AEC apoptosis and UPR activation in patients with IPF. Circulating levels of cCK-18 are increased in patients with IPF and cCK-18 may be a useful diagnostic biomarker.

Concepts: Immune system, Pulmonology, Lung, Endoplasmic reticulum, Epithelium, Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, Pulmonary fibrosis, Unfolded protein response


Prodigiosin is a bacterial tripyrrole pigment with potent cytotoxicity against diverse human cancer cell lines. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress is initiated by accumulation of unfolded or misfolded proteins in the ER lumen and may induce cell death when irremediable. In this study, the role of ER stress in prodigiosin-induced cytotoxicity was elucidated for the first time. Comparable to the ER stress inducer thapsigargin, prodigiosin up-regulated signature ER stress markers GRP78 and CHOP in addition to activating the IRE1, PERK and ATF6 branches of the unfolded protein response (UPR) in multiple human breast carcinoma cell lines, confirming prodigiosin as an ER stress inducer. Prodigiosin transcriptionally up-regulated CHOP, as evidenced by its promoting effect on the CHOP promoter activity. Of note, knockdown of CHOP effectively lowered prodigiosin’s capacity to evoke PARP cleavage, reduce cell viability and suppress colony formation, highlighting an essential role of CHOP in prodigiosin-induced cytotoxic ER stress response. In addition, prodigiosin down-regulated BCL2 in a CHOP-dependent manner. Importantly, restoration of BCL2 expression blocked prodigiosin-induced PARP cleavage and greatly enhanced the survival of prodigiosin-treated cells, suggesting that CHOP-dependent BCL2 suppression mediates prodigiosin-elicited cell death. Moreover, pharmacological inhibition of JNK by SP600125 or dominant-negative blockade of PERK-mediated eIF2α phosphorylation impaired prodigiosin-induced CHOP up-regulation and PARP cleavage. Collectively, these results identified ER stress-mediated cell death as a mode-of-action of prodigiosin’s tumoricidal effect. Mechanistically, prodigiosin engages the IRE1-JNK and PERK-eIF2α branches of the UPR signaling to up-regulate CHOP, which in turn mediates BCL2 suppression to induce cell death.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Cancer, Breast cancer, Endoplasmic reticulum, Cytotoxicity, Breast, Unfolded protein response


IRE1α, the most conserved transducer of the unfolded protein response, plays critical roles in many biological processes and cell fate decisions. Reporting in Science, Upton et al. (2012) broadened our understanding of IRE1α as a cell-death executioner, showing that upon ER stress, IRE1α degrades microRNAs to promote translation of caspase-2.

Concepts: DNA, Proteins, Gene, Enzyme, Cell biology, Genetic code, Unfolded protein response, Sword


The process of atherosclerosis is affected by interactions among numerous biological pathways. Accumulating evidence shows that endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress plays a crucial role in the development of atherosclerosis. Rho-kinase is an effector of small GTP-binding protein Rho, and has been implicated as an atherogenic factor. Previous studies demonstrated that fasudil, a specific Rho-kinase inhibitor, exerts a cardioprotective effect by downregulating ER stress signaling. However, the molecular link between ER stress and Rho-kinase in endothelial cells has not been elucidated. In this study, we investigated the mechanisms by which fasudil regulates endothelial inflammation during ER stress. Tunicamycin, an established ER stress inducer, increased vascular cellular adhesion molecule (VCAM)-1 expression in endothelial cells. Intriguingly, fasudil inhibited VCAM-1 induction. From a mechanistic stand point, fasudil inhibited expression of activating transcription factor (ATF)4 and subsequent C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) induction by tunicamycin. Furthermore, fasudil attenuated tunicamycin-induced phophorylation of p38MAPK that is crucial for the atherogenic response during ER stress. These findings indicate that Rho-kinase regulates ER stress-mediated VCAM-1 induction by ATF4- and p38MAPK-dependent signaling pathways. Rho-kinase inhibition by fasudil would be an important therapeutic approach against atherosclerosis, in particular, under conditions of ER stress.

Concepts: Inflammation, DNA, Atherosclerosis, Endoplasmic reticulum, Cell adhesion molecule, Endothelium, Unfolded protein response, VCAM-1


Direct interaction of Chlamydiae with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is essential in intracellular productive infection. However, little is known about the interplay between Chlamydiae and the ER under cellular stress conditions that are observed in IFN-γ induced chlamydial persistent infection. ER stress responses are centrally regulated by the unfolded protein response (UPR) under the control of the ER chaperone BiP/GRP78 to maintain cellular homeostasis. In this study, we could show that the ER directly interacted with productive and IFN-γ induced persistent inclusions of Chlamydia pneumoniae (Cpn). BiP/GRP78 induction was observed in the early phase but not in the late phase of IFN-γ induced persistent infection. Enhanced BiP/GRP78 expression in the early phase of IFN-γ induced persistent Cpn infection was accompanied by phosphorylation of the eukaryotic initiation factor-2α (eIF2α) and down-regulation of the vesicle-associated membrane protein-associated protein B (VAPB). Loss of BiP/GRP78 function resulted in enhanced phosphorylation of eIF2α and increased host cell apoptosis. In contrast, enhanced BiP/GRP78 expression in IFN-γ induced persistent Cpn infection attenuated phosphorylation of eIF2α upon an exogenous ER stress inducer. In conclusion, ER-related BiP/GRP78 plays a key role to restore cells from stress conditions that are observed in the early phase of IFN-γ induced persistent infection.

Concepts: Cell, Bacteria, Cell membrane, Endoplasmic reticulum, Unfolded protein response, Chlamydiae, Chlamydophila pneumoniae, Chlamydiaceae


Autophagy and unfolded protein response (UPR) appear to be important for skeletal muscle homeostasis and may be altered by exercise. Our aim was to investigate the effects of resistance exercise and training on indicators of UPR and autophagy in healthy untrained young men (n = 12, 27 ± 4 years) and older men (n = 8, 61 ± 6 years) as well as in resistance-trained individuals (n = 15, 25 ± 5 years).

Concepts: Metabolism, Muscle, Myosin, Unfolded protein response, George Michael


Mutations in PINK1 and PARKIN cause early-onset Parkinson’s disease (PD), thought to be due to mitochondrial toxicity. Here, we show that in Drosophila pink1 and parkin mutants, defective mitochondria also give rise to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress signalling, specifically to the activation of the protein kinase R-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK) branch of the unfolded protein response (UPR). We show that enhanced ER stress signalling in pink1 and parkin mutants is mediated by mitofusin bridges, which occur between defective mitochondria and the ER. Reducing mitofusin contacts with the ER is neuroprotective, through suppression of PERK signalling, while mitochondrial dysfunction remains unchanged. Further, both genetic inhibition of dPerk-dependent ER stress signalling and pharmacological inhibition using the PERK inhibitor GSK2606414 were neuroprotective in both pink1 and parkin mutants. We conclude that activation of ER stress by defective mitochondria is neurotoxic in pink1 and parkin flies and that the reduction of this signalling is neuroprotective, independently of defective mitochondria. A video abstract for this article is available online in the supplementary information.

Concepts: Cell, Adenosine triphosphate, Mitochondrion, Endoplasmic reticulum, Neurology, Parkinson's disease, Enzyme inhibitor, Unfolded protein response


Mechanisms of selective autophagy of the ER, known as ER-phagy, require molecular delineation, particularly in vivo. It is unclear how these events control ER proteostasis and cellular health. Here, we identify cell-cycle progression gene 1 (CCPG1), an ER-resident protein with no known physiological role, as a non-canonical cargo receptor that directly binds to core autophagy proteins via an LIR motif to mammalian ATG8 proteins and, independently and via a discrete motif, to FIP200. These interactions facilitate ER-phagy. The CCPG1 gene is inducible by the unfolded protein response and thus directly links ER stress to ER-phagy. In vivo, CCPG1 protects against ER luminal protein aggregation and consequent unfolded protein response hyperactivation and tissue injury of the exocrine pancreas. Thus, via identification of this autophagy protein, we describe an unexpected molecular mechanism of ER-phagy and provide evidence that this may be physiologically relevant in ER luminal proteostasis.

Concepts: Proteins, Protein, Molecular biology, Signal transduction, Hormone, Pancreas, Unfolded protein response, Exocrine pancreas


Inositol Requiring Enzyme-1 (IRE1) is the most conserved transducer of the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR), a surveillance mechanism that ensures homeostasis of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in eukaryotes. IRE1 activation orchestrates adaptive responses, including lipid anabolism, metabolic reprogramming, increases in protein folding competency, and ER expansion/remodeling. However, we still know surprisingly little regarding the principles by which this ER transducer is deactivated upon ER stress clearance. Here we show that Protein Kinase B-mechanistic Target of Rapamycin (PKB/AKT-mTOR) signaling controls the dynamics of IRE1 deactivation by regulating ER-mitochondria physical contacts and the autophosphorylation state of IRE1. AKT-mTOR-mediated attenuation of IRE1 activity is important for ER remodelling dynamics and cell survival in the face of recursive, transient ER stress. Our observations suggest that IRE1 attenuation is an integral component of anabolic programmes regulated by AKT-mTOR. We suggest that AKT-mTOR activity is part of a ‘timing mechanism’ to deactivate IRE1 immediately following engagement of the UPR, in order to limit prolonged IRE1 RNAse activity that could lead to damaging inflammation or apoptosis.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Signal transduction, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Enzyme, Endoplasmic reticulum, Unfolded protein response


The unfolded protein response (UPR) is a conserved homeostatic program that is activated by misfolded proteins in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Recently, it became evident that aberrant lipid compositions of the ER membrane, referred to as lipid bilayer stress, are equally potent in activating the UPR. The underlying molecular mechanism, however, remained unclear. We show that the most conserved transducer of ER stress, Ire1, uses an amphipathic helix (AH) to sense membrane aberrancies and control UPR activity. In vivo and in vitro experiments, together with molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, identify the physicochemical properties of the membrane environment that control Ire1 oligomerization. This work establishes the molecular mechanism of UPR activation by lipid bilayer stress.

Concepts: DNA, Proteins, Protein, Metabolism, Lipid, Membrane protein, Unfolded protein response, Lipid bilayer