The vast majority of cellular proteins are degraded by the 26S proteasome after their ubiquitination. Here, we report that the major component of the myelin multilayered membrane sheath, myelin basic protein (MBP), is hydrolyzed by the 26S proteasome in a ubiquitin-independent manner both in vitro and in mammalian cells. As a proteasomal substrate, MBP reveals a distinct and physiologically relevant concentration range for ubiquitin-independent proteolysis. Enzymatic deimination prevents hydrolysis of MBP by the proteasome, suggesting that an abnormally basic charge contributes to its susceptibility towards proteasome-mediated degradation. To our knowledge, our data reveal the first case of a pathophysiologically important autoantigen as a ubiquitin-independent substrate of the 26S proteasome.
Proteasomes are protein complexes inside cells the are located in the nucleus and the cytoplasm. The main function of the proteasome is to degrade unneeded or damaged proteins by proteolysis, a chemical reaction that breaks peptide bonds. Enzymes that carry out such reactions are called proteases. Proteasomes are part of a major mechanism by which cells regulate the concentration of particular proteins and degrade misfolded proteins. The degradation process yields peptides of about seven to eight amino acids long, which can then be further degraded into shorter amino acid sequences and used in synthesizing new proteins. Proteins are tagged for degradation with a small protein called ubiquitin. The tagging reaction is catalyzed by enzymes called ubiquitin ligases. Once a protein is tagged with a single ubiquitin molecule, this is a signal to other ligases to attach additional ubiquitin molecules. The result is a polyubiquitin chain that is bound by the proteasome, allowing it to degrade the tagged protein.
In structure, the proteasome is a cylindrical complex containing a “core” of four stacked rings forming a central pore. Each ring is composed of seven individual proteins. The inner two rings are made of seven β subunits that contain three to seven protease active sites. These sites are located on the interior surface of the rings, so that the target protein must enter the central pore before it is degraded. The outer two rings each contain seven α subunits whose function is to maintain a “gate” through which proteins enter the barrel. These α subunits are controlled by binding to “cap” structures or regulatory particlesthat recognize polyubiquitin tags attached to protein substrates and initiate the degradation process. The overall system of ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation is known as the ubiquitin-proteasome system.