Versatile regulation of autophagy by the deubiquitinase USP11

  • Autophagy, together with the ubiquitin-proteasome system, is the main quality control pathway responsible for maintaining cell homeostasis. There are several types of autophagy distinguished by cargo selectivity and means of induction. This thesis focuses on macroautophagy, hereafter autophagy, where a double-layered membrane is formed originating from the endoplasmatic reticulum (ER) engulfing cargo selectively or unselectively. Subsequently, a vesicle forms around the cargo, an autophagosome, and eventually fuses with the lysosome leading to degradation of the vesicle content and release of the cargo “building blocks”. Basal autophagy continuously occurs, unselectively engulfing a portion of the cytoplasm. However, autophagy can also be induced by stress such as starvation, protein aggregation, damaged organelles, intracellular pathogens etc. In this case, the cargo is selectively targeted, and the fate of the autophagosome is the same as in basal autophagy. In recent years, interest in identifying mechanisms of autophagy regulation has risen due to its importance in neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. Given the complexity of the process, its execution is tightly regulated from initiation, autophagosome formation, expansion, closure, and finally fusion with the lysosome. Each of the steps involves different protein complexes, whose timely activity is orchestrated by post-translational modifications. One of them is ubiquitination. Ubiquitin is a small, 76-amino acid protein conjugated in a 3-step reaction to other proteins, in a reversible manner, meaning undone by deubiquitinases. Originally described as a degradation signal targeting proteins to the proteasome, today it is known it has various additional non-proteolytic functions, such as regulating a protein’s activity, localization, or interaction partners. The role of ubiquitin in autophagy has already been shown. However, given the reversibility and fine-tuning of the ubiquitin signal, many expected regulators remain unidentified. This work aimed to identify novel deubiquitinating enzymes that regulate autophagy. We identified ubiquitin-specific protease 11 (USP11) as a novel, negative regulator of autophagy. Loss of USP11 leads to an increase in autophagic flux, whereas overexpression of USP11 attenuates it. Moreover, this observation was reproducible in model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, emphasizing the importance of USP11 in autophagy regulation. To identify the mechanism of USP11-dependent autophagy regulation, we performed a USP11 interactome screen after 4 hour Torin1 treatment and identified a plethora of autophagy-related proteins. Following the most prominent hits, we have investigated versatile ways in which USP11 regulates autophagy. USP11 interacts with the PI3KC3 complex, the role of which is phosphorylating lipids of the ER, thereby initiating the formation of the autophagosomal membrane. Phosphorylated lipids serve as a recruitment signal for downstream effector proteins necessary for the membrane expansion. The core components of the complex are VPS34, the lipid kinase, ATG14, the protein responsible for targeting the complex to the ER, VPS15, a pseudokinase with a scaffolding role, Beclin1, a regulatory subunit, and NRBF2, the dimer-inducing subunit. We have found USP11 interacts with the complex and, based on its activity, USP11 influences post-translational status of all the aforementioned subunits, except for ATG14. Moreover, we have found that loss of USP11 leads to an increase in NRBF2 levels, whereas it does not change the levels of the other proteins. Given that the dimerization of the complex leads to an increase in complex activity, we investigated if the complex is more tightly formed in the absence of USP11, and if it is more active. We have found both to be the case. Although the exact mechanism of USP11-dependent PI3KC3 complex regulation remains to be identified, we found that loss of USP11 stimulates the complex formation and activity, likely contributing to the general effect of USP11 on autophagy flux. Additionally, we found that USP11 modulates levels of mTOR, the most upstream kinase in autophagy initiation steps and general multifaceted metabolism regulator. Loss of USP11 led to downregulation of mTOR levels, suggesting USP11 may rescue mTOR from proteasome-mediated degradation. Furthermore, we found mTOR to be differentially modified depending on the activity of USP11. However, it remains to be shown if USP11-dependent mTOR regulation contributes to the observed autophagy phenotype. Taken together, USP11 is a novel, versatile, negative regulator of autophagy, and an important addition to our knowledge on the regulation of autophagy by the ubiquitin system.

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Author:Mila Basic
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Volker DötschORCiDGND, Anja BremmORCiDGND
Advisor:Anja Bremm
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2021/03/03
Year of first Publication:2020
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2021/02/11
Release Date:2021/03/18
Page Number:175
Institutes:Biochemie, Chemie und Pharmazie / Biochemie und Chemie
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie / 570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht