Ubiquitin-C-terminal hydrolases cleave isopeptide and peptide-linked ubiquitin from structured proteins but do not edit ubiquitin homopolymers

John S. Bett, Maria Stella Ritorto, Richard Ewan, Ellis G. Jaffray, Satpal Virdee, Jason W. Chin, Axel Knebel, Thimo Kurz, Matthias Trost, Michael H. Tatham, Ronald T. Hay (Lead / Corresponding author)

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    35 Citations (Scopus)


    Modification of proteins with ubiquitin (Ub) occurs through a variety of topologically distinct Ub linkages, including Ube2W-mediated monoubiquitylation of N-terminal alpha amines to generate peptide-linked linear mono-Ub fusions. Protein ubiquitylation can be reversed by the action of deubiquitylating enzymes (DUBs), many of which show striking preference for particular Ub linkage types. Here, we have screened for DUBs that preferentially cleave N-terminal Ub from protein substrates but do not act on ubiquitin homopolymers. We show that members of the Ub C-terminal hydrolase (UCH) family of DUBs demonstrate this preference for N-terminal deubiquitylating activity as they are capable of cleaving N-terminal Ub from SUMO2 and Ube2W, while displaying no activity against any of the 8 Ub linkage types. Surprisingly, this ability to cleave Ub from SUMO2 was 100 times more efficient for UCH-L3 when we deleted the unstructured N-terminus of SUMO2, demonstrating that UCH enzymes can cleave Ub from structured proteins. However, UCH-L3 could also cleave chemically synthesised isopeptide-linked Ub from Lysine 11 (K11) of SUMO2 with similar efficiency, demonstrating that UCH DUB activity is not limited to peptide-linked Ub. These findings advance our understanding of the specificity of the UCH family of DUBs, which are strongly implicated in cancer and neurodegeneration but whose substrate-preference has remained unclear. In addition, our findings suggest that the reversal of Ube2W-mediated N-terminal ubiquitylation may be one physiological role of UCH DUBs in vivo.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)489-498
    Number of pages10
    JournalBiochemical Journal
    Issue number3
    Early online date9 Dec 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2015


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