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J Biol Chem. 2011 Oct 21;286(42):36724-38. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.277673. Epub 2011 Aug 23.

Auto-activation of c-JUN gene by amino acid deprivation of hepatocellular carcinoma cells reveals a novel c-JUN-mediated signaling pathway.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Shands Cancer Center, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, Florida 32610, USA.


Mammalian cells respond to protein or amino acid (AA) limitation by activating a number of signaling pathways, collectively referred to as the AA response (AAR), that modulate a range of cellular functions, including transcriptional induction of target genes. This study demonstrates that in hepatocellular carcinoma cells, expression of c-JUN, JUN-B, c-FOS, and FOS-B was induced by the AAR, whereas JUN-D, FRA-1, and FRA-2 were not. Of the four activated FOS/JUN members, c-JUN made the largest contribution to the induction of several known AAR target genes. For several human liver, prostate, and ovarian cell lines, the AAR-induced increase in c-JUN expression was greater in transformed cells compared with nontransformed counterparts, an effect independent of cell growth rate. Thus far, the best characterized AA-responsive genes are all transcriptionally activated by ATF4, but the AAR-dependent induction of c-JUN transcription was ATF4-independent. The increased expression of c-JUN was dependent on ATF2 and on activation of the MEK-ERK and JNK arms of the MAPK signaling pathways. Formation of c-JUN-ATF2-activated heterodimers was increased after AA limitation, and c-JUN or ATF2 knockdown suppressed the induction of c-JUN and other AAR target genes. AA deprivation triggers a feed-forward process that involves phosphorylation of existing c-JUN protein by JNK and subsequent auto-activation of the c-JUN gene by recruitment of c-JUN and ATF2 to two AP-1 sites within the proximal promoter. The results document the novel observation that AP-1 sequences within the c-JUN gene can function as transcriptional amino acid-response elements.

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