Cyclin/cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) complexes are critical regulators of cellular proliferation. A complex network of regulatory mechanisms has evolved to control their activity, including activating and inactivating phosphorylation of the catalytic CDK subunit and inhibition through specific regulatory proteins. Primate herpesviruses, including the oncogenic Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus, encode cyclin D homologues. Viral cyclins have diverged from their cellular progenitor in that they elicit holoenzyme activity independent of activating phosphorylation by the CDK-activating kinase and resistant to inhibition by CDK inhibitors. Using sequence comparison and site-directed mutagenesis, we performed molecular analysis of the cellular cyclin D and the Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus-cyclin to delineate the molecular mechanisms behind their different behavior. This provides evidence that a surface recognized for its involvement in the docking of CIP/KIP inhibitors is required and sufficient to modulate cyclin-CDK response to a range of regulatory cues, including INK4 sensitivity and CDK-activating kinase dependence. Importantly, amino acids in this region are critically linked to substrate selection, suggesting that a mutational drift in this surface simultaneously affects function and regulation. Together our work provides novel insight into the molecular mechanisms governing cyclin-CDK function and regulation and defines the biological forces that may have driven evolution of viral cyclins.
Human cancers often contain genetic alterations that disable G1/S checkpoint control and loss of this checkpoint is thought to critically contribute to cancer generation by permitting inappropriate proliferation and distorting fate-driven cell cycle exit. The identification of cell permeable small molecules that activate the G1/S checkpoint may therefore represent a broadly applicable and clinically effective strategy for the treatment of cancer. Here we describe the identification of several novel small molecules that trigger G1/S checkpoint activation and characterise the mechanism of action for one, CCT020312, in detail. Transcriptional profiling by cDNA microarray combined with reverse genetics revealed phosphorylation of the eukaryotic initiation factor 2-alpha (EIF2A) through the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2-alpha kinase 3 (EIF2AK3/PERK) as the mechanism of action of this compound. While EIF2AK3/PERK activation classically follows endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress signalling that sets off a range of different cellular responses, CCT020312 does not trigger these other cellular responses but instead selectively elicits EIF2AK3/PERK signalling. Phosphorylation of EIF2A by EIF2A kinases is a known means to block protein translation and hence restriction point transit in G1, but further supports apoptosis in specific contexts. Significantly, EIF2AK3/PERK signalling has previously been linked to the resistance of cancer cells to multiple anticancer chemotherapeutic agents, including drugs that target the ubiquitin/proteasome pathway and taxanes. Consistent with such findings CCT020312 sensitizes cancer cells with defective taxane-induced EIF2A phosphorylation to paclitaxel treatment. Our work therefore identifies CCT020312 as a novel small molecule chemical tool for the selective activation of EIF2A-mediated translation control with utility for proof-of-concept applications in EIF2A-centered therapeutic approaches, and as a chemical starting point for pathway selective agent development. We demonstrate that consistent with its mode of action CCT020312 is capable of delivering potent, and EIF2AK3 selective, proliferation control and can act as a sensitizer to chemotherapy-associated stresses as elicited by taxanes.
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