- Ubiquitin regulation of DNA damage repair and tolerance (2009)
- By adopting a variety of shapes, proteins can perform a wide number of functions in the cell, from being structural elements or enabling communication with the environment to performing complex enzymatic reactions needed to sustain metabolism. The number of proteins in the cell is limited by the number of genes encoding them. However, several mechanisms exist to increase the overall number of protein functions. One of them are post-translational modifications, i.e. covalent attachment of various molecules onto proteins. Ubiquitin was the first protein to be found to modify other proteins, and, faithful to its evocative name, it is involved in nearly all the activities of a cell. Ubiquitylation of proteins was believed for a long time only to be responsible for proteasomal degradation of modified proteins. However, with the discovery of various types of ubiquitylation, such as mono-, multiple- or poly-ubiquitylation, new functions of this post-translational modification emerged. Mono-ubiquitylation has been implicated in endocytosis, chromatin remodelling and DNA repair, while poly-ubiquitylation influences the half-life of proteins or modulates signal transduction pathways. DNA damage repair and tolerance are example of pathways extensively regulated by ubiquitylation. PCNA, a protein involved in nearly all types of DNA transaction, can undergo both mono- and poly-ubiquitylation. These modifications are believed to change the spectrum of proteins that interact with PCNA. Monoubiquitylation of PCNA is induced by stalling of replication forks when replicative polymerases (pols) encounter an obstacle, such as DNA damage or tight DNA-protein complexes. It is believed that monoubiquitylation of PCNA stimulates the exchange between replicative pols to one of polymerases that can synthesize DNA across various lesions, a mechanism of damage tolerance known as translesion synthesis (TLS). Our work has helped to understand why monoubiqutylation of PCNA favours this polymerase switch. We have identified two novel domains with the ability to bind Ub non-covalently. These domains are present in all the members of Y polymerases performing TLS, and were named Ub-binding zinc finger (UBZ) (in polη and polκ) and Ub-binding motif (UBM) (in polι and Rev1). We have shown that these domains enable Y polymerases to preferentially gain access to PCNA upon stalling of replication, when the action of translesion polymerases is required. While the region of direct interaction between Y pols and PCNA had been known (BRCT domain in Rev1 and PIP box motif (PIP) in three others members), we propose that Ub-binding domains (UBDs) in translesion Y pols enhance the PIP- or BRCT-domain-mediated interaction between these polymerases and PCNA by binding to the Ub moiety attached onto PCNA. Following these initial studies, we have also discovered that Y polymerases themselves undergo monoubiquitylation and that their UBDs mediate this modification. This auto-ubiquitylation is believed to lead to an intramolecular interaction between UBD and Ub attached in cis onto the UBD-containing protein. We have mapped monoubiquitylation sites in polη in the C-terminal portion of the protein containing the nuclear localization signal (NLS) and the PIP box. Beside PIP, the NLS motif is also involved in direct interaction of polη with PCNA. Based on these findings, we propose that monoubiquitylation of either NLS or PIP masks them from potential interaction with PCNA. Lastly, using several functional assays, we have demonstrated the importance of all these three motifs in the C-terminus of polη (UBZ, NLS and PIP) for efficient TLS. We have also constructed a mimic of monoubiquitylated polη by genetically fusing polη with Ub. Interestingly, this chimera is deficient in TLS as compared to the wild-type protein. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that the C-terminus of polη constitutes a regulatory module involved in multiple-site interaction with monoubiquitylated PCNA, and that monoubiquitylation of this region inhibits the interaction between polη and PCNA. Our work has also revealed that the UBDs of Y pols as well as of other proteins implicated in DNA damage repair and tolerance, such as the Werner helicase-interacting protein 1 (Wrnip1), are required for their proper sub-nuclear localization. All these proteins localize to discrete focal structures inside the nucleus and mutation of their UBDs results in inability to accumulate in these foci. Interestingly, by exchanging UBDs between different proteins we have learned that each UBD seems to have a distinct functional role, surprisingly not limited to Ubbinding ability. In fact, swapping the UBZ of Wrnip1 with the UBM of polι abolished the localization of Wrnip1 to foci despite preserving the Ub-binding ability of the chimeric protein. In summary, this work provides an overview of how post-translation modification of proteins by Ub can regulate several DNA transactions. Firstly, key regulators (e.g. PCNA) can be differentially modified by Ub. Secondly, specialized UBDs (e.g. UBM, UBZ) embedded only in a subset of proteins act as modules able to recognize these modifications. Thirdly, by means of mediating auto-ubiquitylation, UBDs can modulate the behaviour of host proteins by allowing for either in cis or in trans Ub-UBD interactions.