Mechanism of Abrin-Induced Apoptosis and Insights into the Neutralizing Activity of mAb D6F10
Abrin is a potent toxin obtained from the seeds of Abrus precatorius. It is a heterodimeric glycoprotein consisting of an A and a B subunit linked together by a disulfide bond. The toxicity of the protein comes from the A subunit harboring RNA-N-glycosidase activity which cleaves the glycosidic bond between the ribose sugar and the adenine at position 4324 in 28S rRNA. The depurination of a specific adenine residue at position 4324 results in loss of conformation of the 28S rRNA at the α sarcin/ricin loop to which elongation factor-2 (EF-2) binds, during the transloction step of translation, leading to inhibition of protein synthesis. The B subunit of abrin is a galactose specific lectin. The lectin activity enables the toxin to gain entry inside cells on binding to receptors with terminal galactose. After entering cells, a few molecules of abrin reach the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) via the retrograde transport, where the disulfide bond between the A and the B subunits gets cleaved. Then the A chain escapes into the cytosol where it binds to its target, the α-sarcin loop of the 28S ribosomal RNA and inhibits protein synthesis. Apart from inhibition of protein synthesis, exposure of cells to abrin leads to the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) resulting in the activation of caspases and finally apoptosis. However, whether apoptosis is dependent on the inhibition of protein synthesis has not been elucidated. The major objectives of this study are therefore to delineate the signaling pathways involved in abrin-induced apoptosis. The thesis is divided into 4 Chapters: Chapter 1. provides a overview of the general properties of RIPs, with a brief history, classification, trafficking and biological activities of the toxins. This chapter also discusses their potential use in bio-warfare and the treatments available for management of toxicity. Chapter 2 and 3 discuss the results obtained on studies aimed at gaining insights into the signaling pathways involved in abrin-induced apoptosis. Chapter 4 focuses on the research carried out to understand the mechanisms of neutralization of abrin by the mAb D6F10. Towards the first objective, chapter 2 elucidates the role of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress signaling in abrin-induced apoptosis using the human T-cell line, Jurkat as a model system. It could be concluded that the inhibition of protein synthesis by the catalytic A subunit of abrin could result in accumulation of unfolded proteins in the ER leading to ER stress which triggers the unfolded protein response (UPR) pathway. The ER resident trans-membrane sensors IRE1 (Inositol-requiring enzyme 1), PERK (PKR-like ER kinase) and ATF6 (Activating transcription factor 6) are the important players of UPR in mammalian cells. These sensors inhibit translation and increase the levels of chaperones to restore protein homeostasis. However, if the ER stress is prolonged, apoptotic pathways get activated to remove severely damaged cells in which protein folding defects cannot be resolved. Recent studies have shown that endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress induces apoptosis by activating initiater caspases such as caspase-2 and -8 which eventually trigger mitochondrial membrane potential loss and activation of downstream effector capases-9 and -3. Phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor 2α and upregulation of CHOP [CAAT/enhancer binding protein (C/EBP) homologous protein], important players involved in ER stress signaling by abrin, suggested activation of ER stress in the cells. ER stress is also known to induce apoptosis via stress kinases such as p38 MAPK and JNK. Activation of both the pathways was observed upon abrin treatment and found to be upstream of the activation of caspases. However, abrin-induced apoptosis was found be dependent on p38 MAPK but not JNK. We also observed that abrin induced activation of caspase-2 and caspase-8 and triggered Bid cleavage leading to mitochondrial membrane potential loss and thus connecting the signaling events from ER stress to mitochondrial death machinery. Few toxins belonging to the family of ribosome inactivating proteins such as Shiga toxin have been observed to induce DNA damage in human endothelial cells and activate p53/ATM-dependent signaling pathway in mammalian cells. To further investigate the role of abrin on activation of DNA damage signaling pathway, we analysed the phosphorylation of H2AX and ATM, which are markers for double strand DNA breaks. We observed phosphorylation of H2AX and ATM upon abrin treatment but not when cells were pretreated with the broad spectrum pan caspase inhibitor. This study suggested that the DNA damage observed was an indirect effect of caspase-activated DNase. We concluded from the studies in chapter 2 that inhibition of protein synthesis by abrin can trigger endoplasmic reticulum stress leading to mitochondria-mediated apoptosis. Further studies were conducted to understand the dependence of ER stress on inhibition of protein synthesis and are presented in chapter 3. For this study, we have used an active site mutant of abrin A chain (R167L) which exhibits lower protein synthesis inhibitory activity than the wild type abrin A chain. Recombinant wild type and mutant abrin A chains were expressed in E.coli and purified. Since, abrin A chain requires the B chain for internalization into cells, both wild type and mutant abrin A chains were conjugated to native ricin B chain to generate a hybrid toxin. Next, we have compared the toxic effects of the two conjugates in cells. The rate of inhibition of protein synthesis mediated by the mutant ricin B-rABRA (R167L) conjugate was slower than that of the wild type ricin B-rABRA conjugate but it could trigger ER stress leading to mitochondrial mediated apoptosis in cells though delayed, suggesting that inhibition of protein synthesis is the major factor contributing to abrin-mediated apoptosis. Abrin is extremely lethal and considered as a potential agent for use in biological warfare. Currently, there are no antidotes or effective therapies available for abrin poisoning. Antibody based antitoxins function by either preventing toxin binding to cell surface receptors or by translocation. Antibodies against the B chain of RIPs function by inhibiting the binding of B chain of the toxin to cells, whereas the exact mechanism by which antibodies against A chain function is still not clear. The only known neutralizing monoclonal antibody against abrin A chain, namely, D6F10, was generated in our laboratory and was shown to rescue cells and mice from abrin intoxication. Earlier experiments with confocal microscopy suggested that mAb D6F10 could internalize in HeLa cells along with abrin, suggesting that the antibody can function intracellularly. Chapter 4 discusses the work carried out to delineate the mechanism of intracellular neutralization of abrin by the mAb D6F10. We observed significant reduction in binding and delay in abrin internalization in the presence of the neutralizing monoclonal antibody (mAb) D6F10. Considering that the majority of the abrin after internalization is removed by lysosomal degradation, we studied the fate of abrin in the presence of mAb D6F10. Confocal images did not show any difference in the distribution of abrin in the lysosomes in the absence or presence of antibody. However, the antibody remained persistently colocalized with abrin in the cells, suggesting that the antibody might inhibit enzymatic activity of abrin at its cellular site of action.
- Biochemistry (BC) 
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