Translational Control Of p53 And Its Isoform By Internal Initiation
Tumor suppressor p53, the guardian of the genome, has been intensely studied molecule owing to its central role in maintaining cellular integrity. While the level of p53 protein is maintained low in unstressed conditions, there is a rapid increase in the functional p53 protein levels during stress conditions. It is now well documented in literature that p53 protein accumulates in the cells following DNA damage by posttranslational modifications leading to increased stability and half life of protein. Additionally, recent studies have also highlighted the significance of increased p53 translation during stress conditions. Interestingly, an alternative initiation codon has been shown to be present within the coding region of p53 mRNA. Translation initiation from this internal AUG results in an N-terminally truncated p53 isoform, described as ΔN-p53. However, the mechanisms underlying co-translational regulation of p53 and ΔN-p53 are still poorly understood. Studies have suggested that synthesis of both p53 and its ΔN-p53 isoform is regulated during cell cycle and also stress and cell-type specific manner. Interestingly, reports also demonstrate continued synthesis of both p53 isoforms during stress conditions. In contrast, global rates of cap-dependent translation initiation are shown to be reduced during stress conditions. This translation attenuation is observed mainly due to restricted availability of critical initiation factors. Interestingly, preferential synthesis of a vital pool of survival factors persists even during these circumstances. Studies have suggested that this selective translation is mediated via alternative mechanisms of translation initiation. One of the important mechanisms used for protein synthesis during these conditions is internal initiation. In this mechanism, the ribosomes are recruited to a complex RNA structural element known as ‘Internal Ribosome Entry Site (IRES)’, generally present in the 5’ untranslated region (UTR) of mRNA. Therefore, it is possible that the translation of p53 and ΔN-p53 could also be regulated by IRES mediated translation, especially during stress conditions. In this thesis the role of internal initiation in translational control of p53 and ΔN-p53 has been investigated. Additionally, the putative secondary structure of p53 IRES RNA has been determined. Further, it has been shown that polypyrimidine tract binding (PTB) protein acts as an important regulator of p53 IRES activities. The probable mechanism of action of PTB protein has also been investigated. The results suggest that interaction with PTB alters the p53 IRES conformation which could facilitate translation initiation. Finally, the possible physiological significance of existence of p53 IRES elements has been addressed. In the first part of the thesis, the presence of internal ribosome entry site within p53 mRNA has been investigated. As a first step, the 5’UTRs mediating the translation of both p53 and ΔN-p53 were cloned in the intercistronic regions of bicistronic constructs. Results of in vivo transfection of these bicistronic constructs suggested the presence of two IRES elements within p53 mRNA, with activities comparable to known viral and cellular IRESs. The IRES directing the translation of p53 is in the 5'-untranslated region of the mRNA, whereas the IRES mediating the translation of ΔN-p53 extends further into the protein-coding region. To further validate, stringent assays were performed to rule out the possibility of any cryptic promoter activity, re-initiation/scanning or alternative splicing in the p53 mRNA. Transfection of in vitro synthesized bicistronic RNAs confirmed the presence of IRES elements within p53 mRNA. Incidentally, this constitutes the first report on translational control of p53 by internal initiation. In the second part of the thesis, the secondary structure of p53 IRES RNA has been investigated. Structural analysis of p53 RNA was performed using structure-specific nucleases and modifying chemicals. The results obtained from chemical modification and nuclease probing experiments were used to constrain Mfold predicted structures. Based on this, a putative secondary structure model for p53 IRES RNA has been derived. Sequence alignment suggested that the p53 IRES RNA showed significant sequence conservation across mammalian species. To study the effect of mutations on the IRES structure, mutant p53 IRESs were used that harbor silent mutations at critical locations within the p53 IRES element. Incidentally, one of the mutant constructs used in the study was observed to be a naturally occurring mutation in a chronic lymphocyte leukemia patient. RNA structure analyses of these two mutant p53 IRES RNAs were performed. The nuclease mapping data suggested conformational alteration in these mutant RNAs with respect to wild type. Consistently, a comparative Circular-Dichroism spectroscopy of the Wt and mutant RNAs also validated the conformational alteration of the mutant RNAs. This also suggested that the presence of mutations in p53 IRES might result in decreased induction of p53 protein following DNA damage due to altered RNA structure. This might constitute as one of the mechanisms leading to tumor development in some types of cancers. In the third part of the thesis, the role of important cellular proteins that might modulate p53 IRES mediated translation has been studied. These cellular proteins act as IRES interacting trans-acting factors (ITAFs). Polypyrimidine tract binding (PTB) protein is an important ITAF implicated in regulating IRES mediated gene expression during apoptosis. It was observed that PTB protein specifically interacts with both the IRES elements within p53 mRNA. Interestingly, the affinity of interaction of PTB protein with both p53 IRES RNAs was observed to be significantly different. In order to determine the contact points of PTB on p53 IRES, a foot-printing assay using structure specific nuclease and recombinant-PTB protein was performed on p53 RNA. The data from foot-printing as well as primer extension inhibition assay (toe-printing analysis) suggested the presence of multiple PTB binding sites on p53 IRES RNA. Based on these results, a deletion mutant was generated that showed reduced PTB binding and also reduced IRES activity as compared to wild type. Further, to study the role of PTB in mediating p53 translation, the expression of PTB gene was partially silenced by using PTB specific siRNA. Partial depletion of endogenous PTB protein showed a significant decrease in the p53 IRES activities. These results suggest that PTB protein is essential for the p53 IRES activities. To understand the probable mechanism by which PTB regulates p53 IRES mediated translation, CD spectroscopy analysis of p53 IRES RNA was performed in the absence and presence of PTB protein. Interestingly, CD spectra analysis of the p53 RNA in the presence of PTB suggested a specific conformational change in p53 IRES, which might probably facilitate ribosome loading during internal initiation. This also suggests that abnormal expression of p53 ITAFs might lead to reduced p53 induction following DNA damage conditions. It could also be another event leading to malignant transformation of cells bearing wild type p53. It is highly tempting to speculate that the levels of p53 ITAFs could also be used as tumor biomarkers. In the fourth part of the thesis, the physiological relevance of existence of IRES elements within p53 mRNA has been investigated. The levels of p53 and ΔN-p53 proteins are known to be regulated in a cell cycle phase-dependent manner. The IRES activities of both p53 IRES elements were investigated at different phases of cell cycle. The activity of the IRES responsible for translation of p53 protein was found to be highest at G2-M transition and the maximum IRES activity corresponding to ΔN-p53 synthesis was observed at G1-S transition. These results suggested that the p53 IRES activities are regulated in a cell-cycle phase-dependent manner. Next, the regulation of p53 IRES mediated translation during stress conditions was studied. Human lung carcinoma cell line, A549 cells (that endogenously express both the p53 isoforms), were exposed to DNA damaging drug, doxorubicin. The level of p53 protein was observed to increase in a time-dependent manner. Interestingly, PTB protein, which is predominantly nuclear, was found to translocate to the cytoplasm during stress condition in a time-dependent manner. Under similar conditions, p53 protein was observed to reverse translocate from the cytoplasm to nucleus, probably to function as a transcription factor. Next, the influence of partial PTB silencing on p53 isoforms in the presence of cell stress (mediated by doxorubicin) was investigated. The data indicated reduced levels of both p53 and ΔN-p53 when PTB gene expression was partially silenced. These observations constitute “the proof of concept” that relative abundance of an ITAF, such as PTB protein, might contribute to regulating the coordinated expression of the p53 isoforms. The thesis reveals the presence as well as the physiological relevance of existence of IRES elements within p53 mRNA. The novel discovery of p53 IRES elements may provide new insights into the underlying mechanism of translational regulation. The modulation of the p53 IRES activities by PTB protein suggests that the regulated expression of p53 isoforms depends on the integrity of IRES elements and availability of cellular proteins that can serve as p53 ITAFs. Thus, studies pertaining to the identification of mutations within p53 IRES region as well as abnormal expression of p53 ITAFs such as PTB in cancer cells may have far reaching implications. These studies might lead to further advances in the field of cancer detection, prognosis and design of novel therapeutic strategies.
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