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Cell Cycle. 2011 Sep 15;10(18):3067-71. Epub 2011 Sep 15.

Terminating protein ubiquitination: Hasta la vista, ubiquitin.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; University of Iowa; Iowa City, IA, USA.


Ubiquitination is a post-translational modification that generally directs proteins for degradation by the proteasome or by lysosomes. However, ubiquitination has been implicated in many other cellular processes, including transcriptional regulation, DNA repair, regulation of protein-protein interactions and association with ubiquitin-binding scaffolds. Ubiquitination is a dynamic process. Ubiquitin is added to proteins by E3 ubiquitin ligases as a covalent modification to one or multiple lysine residues as well as non-lysine amino acids. Ubiquitin itself contains seven lysines, each of which can also be ubiquitinated, leading to polyubiquitin chains that are best characterized for linkages occurring through K48 and K63. Ubiquitination can also be reversed by the action of deubiquitination enzymes (DUbs). Like E3 ligases, DUbs play diverse and critical roles in cells. ( 1) Ubiquitin is expressed as a fusion protein, as a linear repeat or as a fusion to ribosomal subunits, and DUbs are necessary to liberate free ubiquitin, making them the first enzyme of the ubiquitin cascade. Proteins destined for degradation by the proteasome or by lysosomes are deubiquitinated prior to their degradation, which allows ubiquitin to be recycled by the cell, contributing to the steady-state pool of free ubiquitin. Proteins destined for degradation by lysosomes are also acted upon by both ligases and DUbs. Deubiquitination can also act as a means to prevent protein degradation, and many proteins are thought to undergo rounds of ubiquitination and deubiquitination, ultimately resulting in either the degradation or stabilization of those proteins. Despite years of study, examining the effects of the ubiquitination of proteins remains quite challenging. This is because the methods that are currently being employed to study ubiquitination are limiting. Here, we briefly examine current strategies to study the effects of ubiquitination and describe an additional novel approach that we have developed.

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