Background: Import of proteins into the mitochondria is regulated by the translocase of the outer mitochondrial membrane (TOM) complex, which facilitates transport through the outer mitochondrial membrane, and a complementary translocase of the inner membrane (TIM) complex, responsible for protein transport to the mitochondrial matrix. The TOM complex consists of the receptors Tom20, Tom22, and Tom70, and the channel-forming protein Tom40 (1). Tom20 is localized in the outer mitochondrial membrane and initially recognizes precursors with a presequence to facilitate protein import across the outer mitochondrial membrane (2).Changes in mitochondrial dynamics regulated by environmental cues affect mitochondrial size and shape and have been shown to dramatically impact mitochondrial metabolism, apoptosis, and autophagy (3). These processes are largely controlled by mitochondrial dynamin-related GTPases, including mitofusin-1, mitofusin-2, OPA1, and DRP1. DRP1 regulates mitochondrial fission, while the mitofusins and OPA1 control fusion at the outer and inner mitochondrial membrane, respectively. These proteins are tightly regulated. OPA1 activity is regulated through alternative splicing and post-translational modifications, including complex proteolytic processing by multiple proteases (4-9). In addition, OPA1 expression can be induced under conditions of metabolic demand through a pathway involving Parkin induced NF-κB activation (10). DRP1 is regulated in part through multiple phosphorylation sites (11). Phosphorylation of DRP1 at Ser616 by MAPK or during mitosis by CDKs stimulates mitochondrial fission (12-14). Mitochondrial fission factor (MFF) is a tail-anchored protein that resides within the outer mitochondrial membrane and is part of the mitochondrial fission complex. MFF participates in mitochondrial fission by serving as one of multiple receptors for the GTPase dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1) (15-18). AMPK directly phosphorylates MFF at two sites to allow for enhanced recruitment of Drp1 to the mitochondria (19).
Background: The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR, FRAP, RAFT) is a Ser/Thr protein kinase (1-3) that functions as an ATP and amino acid sensor to balance nutrient availability and cell growth (4,5). When sufficient nutrients are available, mTOR responds to a phosphatidic acid-mediated signal to transmit a positive signal to p70 S6 kinase and participate in the inactivation of the eIF4E inhibitor, 4E-BP1 (6). These events result in the translation of specific mRNA subpopulations. mTOR is phosphorylated at Ser2448 via the PI3 kinase/Akt signaling pathway and autophosphorylated at Ser2481 (7,8). mTOR plays a key role in cell growth and homeostasis and may be abnormally regulated in tumors. For these reasons, mTOR is currently under investigation as a potential target for anti-cancer therapy (9).
Background: The stress-activated protein kinase/Jun-amino-terminal kinase SAPK/JNK is potently and preferentially activated by a variety of environmental stresses including UV and gamma radiation, ceramides, inflammatory cytokines, and in some instances, growth factors and GPCR agonists (1-6). As with the other MAPKs, the core signaling unit is composed of a MAPKKK, typically MEKK1-MEKK4, or by one of the mixed lineage kinases (MLKs), which phosphorylate and activate MKK4/7. Upon activation, MKKs phosphorylate and activate the SAPK/JNK kinase (2). Stress signals are delivered to this cascade by small GTPases of the Rho family (Rac, Rho, cdc42) (3). Both Rac1 and cdc42 mediate the stimulation of MEKKs and MLKs (3). Alternatively, MKK4/7 can be activated in a GTPase-independent mechanism via stimulation of a germinal center kinase (GCK) family member (4). There are three SAPK/JNK genes each of which undergoes alternative splicing, resulting in numerous isoforms (3). SAPK/JNK, when active as a dimer, can translocate to the nucleus and regulate transcription through its effects on c-Jun, ATF-2, and other transcription factors (3,5).
Background: Autophagy is a catabolic process for the autophagosome-lysosomal degradation of bulk cytoplasmic contents (1, 2). Selective autophagy targets the degradation of distinct sets of substrates and organelles (3-5). One of the best studied examples of selective autophagy involves the clearance of damaged mitochondria through a process called mitophagy. Several pathways have been described for various contexts of mitophagy, including the FUNDC1 pathway, the BNIP3 and BNIP3L/Nix pathway, and the PINK1/Parkin pathway. FUNDC1 is a mitochondrial protein that is phosphorylated by the autophagy kinase ULK1 and regulates hypoxia induced mitophagy (6, 7). BNIP3L/Nix and BNIP3 are members of the Bcl-2 family of apoptosis regulators that are expressed on mitochondria, induced by hypoxia, and have have been shown to play a role in mitophagy (8). BNIP3L/Nix is also important in the autophagic maturation of erythroid cells (9). FUNDC1, BNIP3 and BNIP3L/Nix bind to LC3 family members, targeting the mitochondria to the autophagosome.Non-hypoxic induction of mitophagy can be regulated by the PINK1/Parkin pathway, which plays causative roles in neurodegenerative disease, most notably Parkinson’s disease (10, 11). PINK1 is a mitochondrial serine/threonine kinase that is stabilized on the outer mitochondrial membrane of damaged mitochondria. Substrates of PINK1 include the E3 ubiquitin ligase Parkin and ubiquitin itself (12-14). Phosphorylation of Parkin as well as binding to phosphorylated ubiquitin leads to accumulation of ubiquitinated chains on multiple mitochondrial proteins. Ubiquitinated proteins are recognized by selective cargo receptors including SQSTM1/p62, Optineurin, and NDP52 (15-16). Autophagy cargo receptors contain an LC3-interacting region (LIR) required for binding to Atg8/LC3 family members and targeting to the autophagosome (3).
Background: The inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP) family consists of an evolutionarily conserved group of apoptosis inhibitors containing a conserved 70 amino acid BIR (baculovirus inhibitor repeat) domain (1,2). Human members of this family include c-IAP1, c-IAP2, XIAP, survivin, livin, and NAIP. Overexpression of IAP family members, particularly survivin and livin, in cancer cell lines and primary tumors suggests an important role for these proteins in cancer progression (3-5). In general, the IAP proteins function through direct interactions to inhibit the activity of several caspases, including caspase-3, caspase-7, and caspase-9 (5,6). In addition, binding of IAP family members to the mitochondrial protein Smac blocks their interaction with caspase-9, thereby allowing the processing and activation of the caspase (2).
Background: Two related serine/threonine kinases, UNC-51-like kinase 1 and 2 (ULK1, ULK2), were discovered as mammalian homologs of the C. elegans gene UNC-51 in which mutants exhibited abnormal axonal extension and growth (1-4). Both proteins are widely expressed and contain an amino-terminal kinase domain followed by a central proline/serine rich domain and a highly conserved carboxy-terminal domain. The roles of ULK1 and ULK2 in axon growth have been linked to studies showing that the kinases are localized to neuronal growth cones and are involved in endocytosis of critical growth factors, such as NGF (5). Yeast two-hybrid studies found ULK1/2 associated with modulators of the endocytic pathway, SynGAP and syntenin (6). Structural similarity of ULK1/2 has also been recognized with the yeast autophagy protein Atg1/Apg1 (7). Knockdown experiments using siRNA demonstrated that ULK1 is essential for autophagy (8), a catabolic process for the degradation of bulk cytoplasmic contents (9,10). It appears that Atg1/ULK1 can act as a convergence point for multiple signals that control autophagy (11), and can bind to several autophagy-related (Atg) proteins, regulating phosphorylation states and protein trafficking (12-16).
Background: Tuberin is a product of the TSC2 tumor suppressor gene and an important regulator of cell proliferation and tumor development (1). Mutations in either TSC2 or the related TSC1 (hamartin) gene cause tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), an autosomal dominant disorder characterized by development of multiple, widespread non-malignant tumors (2). Tuberin is directly phosphorylated at Thr1462 by Akt/PKB (3). Phosphorylation at Thr1462 and Tyr1571 regulates tuberin-hamartin complexes and tuberin activity (3-5). In addition, tuberin inhibits the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which promotes inhibition of p70 S6 kinase, activation of eukaryotic initiation factor 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1, an inhibitor of translation initiation), and eventual inhibition of translation (3,6,7).