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Biochem Soc Trans. 2019 Oct 31;47(5):1481-1488. doi: 10.1042/BST20190331.

Towards a model of GCN2 activation.

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PNAC Division, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Francis Crick Avenue, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge CB2 0QH, U.K.


Cells must be able to sense and adapt to their surroundings to thrive in a dynamic environment. Key to adapting to a low nutrient environment is the Integrated Stress Response (ISR), a short-lived pathway that allows cells to either regain cellular homeostasis or facilitate apoptosis during periods of stress. Central to the ISR is the protein kinase General Control Non-depressible 2 (GCN2), which is responsible for sensing starvation. Upon amino acid deficiency, GCN2 is activated and initiates the ISR by phosphorylating the translation initiation factor eIF2α, stalling protein translation, and activating the transcription factor ATF4, which in turn up-regulates autophagy and biosynthesis pathways. A key outstanding question is how GCN2 is activated from an autoinhibited state. Until recently, a model of activation focussed on the increase of deacylated tRNA associated with amino acid starvation, with deacylated tRNA binding directly to GCN2 and releasing autoinhibition. However, in vivo experiments have pointed towards an alternative, deacylated-tRNA-independent mechanism of activation. Here, we review the various factors that may facilitate GCN2 activation, including recent research showing that the P-stalk complex, a ribosome-associated heteropentameric protein complex, is a potent activator of GCN2.


GCN2; ISR; P-stalk; protein translation; ribosome


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