Opposing roles for ATF6alpha and ATF6beta in endoplasmic reticulum stress response gene induction.


The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) transmembrane proteins, ATF6alpha and ATF6beta, are cleaved in response to ER stress, which can be induced by tunicamycin. The resulting N-terminal fragments of both ATF6 isoforms, which have conserved basic leucine-zipper and DNA binding domains but divergent transcriptional activation domains, translocate to the nucleus where they bind to ER stress-response elements (ERSE) in ER stress-response genes (ERSRG), such as GRP78. Although it is known that ATF6alpha is a potent activator of ERSRGs, the transcriptional potency and functions of ATF6beta remain to be explored. Accordingly, N-terminal fragments of each ATF6 isoform (N-ATF6alpha and N-ATF6beta) were overexpressed in HeLa cells and the effects on GRP78 induction were assessed. When expressed at similar levels, N-ATF6alpha conferred approximately 200-fold greater GRP78 promoter activation than N-ATF6beta. Because ER stress activates nuclear translocation of both ATF6alpha and beta and because both bind to ERSEs, the effect of co-expressing them on GRP78 induction was assessed. Surprisingly, N-ATF6beta inhibited N-ATF6alpha-mediated GRP78 promoter activation in a dominant-negative manner. Moreover, N-ATF6beta inhibited TN-mediated GRP78 promoter activation, which requires endogenous ATF6alpha. ATF6 isoform-specific small inhibitory RNAs were used to show that, as expected, endogenous ATF6alpha was required for maximal ERSRG induction; however, endogenous ATF6beta moderated ERSRG induction. These results indicate that compared with ATF6alpha, ATF6beta is a very poor activator of ERSRG induction and it represses ATF6alpha-mediated ERSRG induction. Thus, ATF6beta may serve as a transcriptional repressor functioning in part to regulate the strength and duration of ATF6alpha-mediated ERSRG activation during the ER stress response.

The Journal of biological chemistry