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Journal: Science signaling


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


With input from the members of the Board of Reviewing Editors and editorial staff, Science Signaling puts the spotlight on the hottest signaling research of 2012. The connection between signaling and metabolism continues to be an important area. Signaling breakthroughs in cancer, immunology, developmental biology, neuroscience, and microbiology all made the list. Structural and molecular insights into signaling proteins and networks are also beginning to not only yield potential therapeutic targets but also lead to successful efforts between synthetic biologists and clinicians in the treatment of cancer.

Concepts: DNA, Medicine, Molecular biology, Biology, Energy, Virus, List, The Spotlight


Cysteine S-nitrosylation is a posttranslational modification by which nitric oxide regulates protein function and signaling. Studies of individual proteins have elucidated specific functional roles for S-nitrosylation, but knowledge of the extent of endogenous S-nitrosylation, the sites that are nitrosylated, and the regulatory consequences of S-nitrosylation remains limited. We used mass spectrometry-based methodologies to identify 1011 S-nitrosocysteine residues in 647 proteins in various mouse tissues. We uncovered selective S-nitrosylation of enzymes participating in glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, tricarboxylic acid cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation, indicating that this posttranslational modification may regulate metabolism and mitochondrial bioenergetics. S-nitrosylation of the liver enzyme VLCAD [very long chain acyl-coenzyme A (CoA) dehydrogenase] at Cys(238), which was absent in mice lacking endothelial nitric oxide synthase, improved its catalytic efficiency. These data implicate protein S-nitrosylation in the regulation of β-oxidation of fatty acids in mitochondria.

Concepts: Protein, Amino acid, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Oxidative phosphorylation, Cellular respiration, Fatty acid metabolism, Citric acid cycle


Genes are interconnected in the cell to form a genetic network that regulates cell fate. Targeting multiple genes is expected to be more effective in developing therapeutics than targeting single genes. A recent study demonstrated the possibility of systematically searching for such combinatorial treatments by characterizing the attractor landscape of the p53 regulatory circuit.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cell, Organism, RNA


Although antipsychotic drugs can reduce psychotic behavior within a few hours, full efficacy is not achieved for several weeks, implying that there may be rapid, short-term changes in neuronal function, which are consolidated into long-lasting changes. We showed that the antipsychotic drug haloperidol, a dopamine receptor type 2 (D2R) antagonist, stimulated the kinase Akt to activate the mRNA translation pathway mediated by the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1). In primary striatal D2R-positive neurons, haloperidol-mediated activation of mTORC1 resulted in increased phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6 (S6) and eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E-binding protein (4E-BP). Proteomic mass spectrometry revealed marked changes in the pattern of protein synthesis after acute exposure of cultured striatal neurons to haloperidol, including increased abundance of cytoskeletal proteins and proteins associated with translation machinery. These proteomic changes coincided with increased morphological complexity of neurons that was diminished by inhibition of downstream effectors of mTORC1, suggesting that mTORC1-dependent translation enhances neuronal complexity in response to haloperidol. In vivo, we observed rapid morphological changes with a concomitant increase in the abundance of cytoskeletal proteins in cortical neurons of haloperidol-injected mice. These results suggest a mechanism for both the acute and long-term actions of antipsychotics.

Concepts: Protein, Ribosome, Protein biosynthesis, Dopamine receptor, Antipsychotic, Schizophrenia, Dopamine, Haloperidol


Upon activation, ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) kinase rapidly phosphorylates hundreds of proteins, setting off chaotic signaling storms from areas of damaged chromatin. Recent work by Kaidi and Jackson and Floyd et al. advance our knowledge of the mechanisms that initiate or limit ATM kinase signaling storms at chromatin.

Concepts: DNA repair, P53


The Hippo-Yap signaling pathway regulates a number of developmental and adult cellular processes, including cell fate determination, tissue growth, and tumorigenesis. Members of the scaffold protein angiomotin (Amot) family interact with several Hippo pathway components, including Yap (Yes-associated protein), and either stimulate or inhibit Yap activity. We used a combination of genetic, biochemical, and transcriptional approaches to assess the functional consequences of the Amot-Yap interaction in mice and in human cells. Mice with a liver-specific Amot knockout exhibited reduced hepatic “oval cell” proliferation and tumorigenesis in response to toxin-induced injury or when crossed with mice lacking the tumor suppressor Nf2. Biochemical examination of the Amot-Yap interaction revealed that the p130 splicing isoform of Amot (Amot-p130) and Yap interacted in both the cytoplasm and nucleus, which involved binding of PPxY and LPxY motifs in Amot-p130 to WW domains of Yap. In the cytoplasm, Amot-p130 prevented the phosphorylation of Yap by blocking access of the WW domains to the kinase Lats1. Within the nucleus, Amot-p130 was associated with the transcriptional complex containing Yap and Teads (TEA domain family members) and contributed to the regulation of a subset of Yap target genes, many of which are associated with tumorigenesis. These findings indicated that Amot acts as a Yap cofactor, preventing Yap phosphorylation and augmenting its activity toward a specific set of genes that facilitate tumorigenesis.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Cell, Archaea, Molecular biology, Signal transduction


Despite initial responses to targeted kinase inhibitors, lung cancer patients presenting with primary epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations acquire resistance, often due to a second-site mutation (T790M). However, clinical trials found no survival benefits in patients treated with a monoclonal antibody (mAb) to EGFR that should block activation of the mutated receptor and thus bypass resistance to molecules that target the catalytic or ATP-binding site. Using cell lines with the T790M mutation, we discovered that prolonged exposure to mAbs against only the EGFR triggered network rewiring by (i) stimulating the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway; (ii) inducing the transcription of HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) and HER3, which encode other members of the EGFR family, and the gene encoding HGF, which is the ligand for the receptor tyrosine kinase MET; and (iii) stimulating the interaction between MET and HER3, which promoted MET activity. Supplementing the EGFR-specific mAb with those targeting HER2 and HER3 suppressed these compensatory feedback loops in cultured lung cancer cells. The triple mAb combination targeting all three receptors prevented the activation of ERK, accelerated the degradation of the receptors, inhibited the proliferation of tumor cells but not of normal cells, and markedly reduced the growth of tumors in mice xenografted with cells that were resistant to combined treatment with erlotinib and the single function-blocking EGFR mAb. These findings uncovered feedback loops that enable resistance to treatment paradigms that use a single antibody and indicate a new strategy for the treatment of lung cancer patients.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Cancer, Oncology, Signal transduction, Lung cancer, Epidermal growth factor receptor, Tumor


Yes-associated protein 1 (YAP1) is a transcriptional coactivator in the Hippo signaling pathway. Increased YAP1 activity promotes the growth of tumors, including that of colorectal cancer (CRC). Verteporfin, a drug that enhances phototherapy to treat neovascular macular degeneration, is an inhibitor of YAP1. We found that verteporfin inhibited tumor growth independently of its effects on YAP1 or the related protein TAZ in genetically or chemically induced mouse models of CRC, in patient-derived xenografts, and in enteroid models of CRC. Instead, verteporfin exhibited in vivo selectivity for killing tumor cells in part by impairing the global clearance of high-molecular weight oligomerized proteins, particularly p62 (a sequestrome involved in autophagy) and STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription 3; a transcription factor). Verteporfin inhibited cytokine-induced STAT3 activity and cell proliferation and reduced the viability of cultured CRC cells. Although verteporfin accumulated to a greater extent in normal cells than in tumor cells in vivo, experiments with cultured cells indicated that the normal cells efficiently cleared verteporfin-induced protein oligomers through autophagic and proteasomal pathways. Culturing CRC cells under hypoxic or nutrient-deprived conditions (modeling a typical CRC microenvironment) impaired the clearance of protein oligomers and resulted in cell death, whereas culturing cells under normoxic or glucose-replete conditions protected cell viability and proliferation in the presence of verteporfin. Furthermore, verteporfin suppressed the proliferation of other cancer cell lines even in the absence of YAP1, suggesting that verteporfin may be effective against multiple types of solid cancers.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Cancer, Signal transduction, Colorectal cancer, Transcription factor


Activation of Toll-like receptor (TLR)-dependent signaling leads to the expression of genes encoding proinflammatory factors, such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and this proinflammatory gene expression is sustained for the duration of the inflammatory response. TLR4-mediated inflammation, which occurs in two phases, depends on the TNF family member 4-1BB ligand (4-1BBL) to sustain TNF-α production during late-phase signaling. We showed that Toll-interleukin-1 receptor (TIR) domain-containing adaptor protein (TIRAP) and the kinase IRAK2 interacted with 4-1BBL to mediate late-phase TLR4 signaling. Expression of 4-1bbl depended on early TLR4 signaling that also induced Tnf expression, and 4-1BBL translocated to the plasma membrane, where it interacted with TLR4 to mediate late-phase signaling. TLR4-4-1BBL-mediated signaling depended on TIRAP and IRAK2, as well as a complex consisting of the E3 ubiquitin ligase TRAF6 (TNF receptor-associated factor 6), the kinase TAK1 (transforming growth factor-β-activated kinase 1), and the adaptor protein TAB1 (TAK-binding protein 1). Inhibition of this late-phase pathway reduced the extent of TNF-α production by mouse macrophages exposed to the TLR4 ligand lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and ameliorated LPS-induced sepsis in mice. Together, these data suggest that TIRAP and IRAK2 are critical for the sustained inflammatory response that is mediated by late-phase signaling by the TLR-4-1BBL complex.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Gene, Cell, Transcription, Enzyme, Proteasome, Tumor necrosis factor-alpha