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J Biol Chem. 2007 Jun 15;282(24):17375-86. Epub 2007 Apr 10.

Certain pairs of ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes (E2s) and ubiquitin-protein ligases (E3s) synthesize nondegradable forked ubiquitin chains containing all possible isopeptide linkages.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


It is generally assumed that a specific ubiquitin ligase (E3) links protein substrates to polyubiquitin chains containing a single type of isopeptide linkage, and that chains composed of linkages through Lys(48), but not through Lys(63), target proteins for proteasomal degradation. However, when we carried out a systematic analysis of the types of ubiquitin (Ub) chains formed by different purified E3s and Ub-conjugating enzymes (E2s), we found, using Ub mutants and mass spectrometry, that the U-box E3, CHIP, and Ring finger E3s, MuRF1 and Mdm2, with the E2, UbcH5, form a novel type of Ub chain that contains all seven possible linkages, but predominantly Lys(48), Lys(63), and Lys(11) linkages. Also, these heterogeneous chains contain forks (bifurcations), where two Ub molecules are linked to the adjacent lysines at Lys(6) + Lys(11), Lys(27) + Lys(29), or Lys(29) + Lys(33) on the preceding Ub molecule. However, the HECT domain E3s, E6AP and Nedd4, with the same E2, UbcH5, form homogeneous chains exclusively, either Lys(48) chains (E6AP) or Lys(63) chains (Nedd4). Furthermore, with other families of E2s, CHIP and MuRF1 synthesize homogeneous Ub chains on the substrates. Using the dimeric E2, UbcH13/Uev1a, they attach Lys(63) chains, but with UbcH1 (E2-25K), MuRF1 synthesizes Lys(48) chains on the substrate. We then compared the capacity of the forked heterogeneous chains and homogeneous chains to support proteasomal degradation. When troponin I was linked by MuRF1 to a Lys(48)-Ub chain or, surprisingly, to a Lys(63)-Ub chain, troponin I was degraded rapidly by pure 26S proteasomes. However, when linked to the mixed forked chains, troponin I was degraded quite poorly, and its polyUb chain, especially the forked linkages, was disassembled slowly by proteasome-associated isopeptidases. Because these Ring finger and U-box E3s with UbcH5 target proteins for degradation in vivo, but Lys(63) chains do not, cells probably contain additional factors that prevent formation of such nondegradable Ub-conjugates and that protect proteins linked to Lys(63)-Ub chains from proteasomal degradation.

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