Mycolactone is the exotoxin virulence factor of Mycobacterium ulcerans that causes the neglected tropical disease Buruli ulcer. We recently showed it to be a broad spectrum inhibitor of Sec61-dependent co-translational translocation of proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). An outstanding question is the molecular pathway linking this to its known cytotoxicity. We have now used translational profiling to better understand the reprogramming that occurs in cells exposed to mycolactone. Gene ontology identified enrichment in genes involved in cellular response to stress, and apoptosis signalling among those showing enhanced translation. Validation of these results supports a mechanism by which mycolactone activates an integrated stress response meditated by phosphorylation of eIF2α via multiple kinases (PERK, GCN, PKR) without activation of the ER stress sensors IRE1 or ATF6. The response therefore uncouples the integrated stress response from ER stress, and features translational and transcriptional modes of genes expression that feature the key regulatory transcription factor ATF4. Emphasising the importance of this uncoupled response in cytotoxicity, downstream activation of this pathway is abolished in cells expressing mycolactone-resistant Sec61α variants. Using multiple genetic and biochemical approaches, we demonstrate that eIF2α phosphorylation is responsible for mycolactone-dependent translation attenuation, which initially protects cells from cell death. However, chronic activation without stress remediation enhances autophagy and apoptosis of cells by a pathway facilitated by ATF4 and CHOP. Our findings demonstrate that priming events at the ER can result in the sensing of stress within different cellular compartments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research