MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that function as guide molecules in RNA silencing. Targeting most protein-coding transcripts, miRNAs are involved in nearly all developmental and pathological processes in animals. The biogenesis of miRNAs is under tight temporal and spatial control, and their dysregulation is associated with many human diseases, particularly cancer. In animals, nniRNAs are 22 nucleotides in length, and they are produced by two RNase III proteins - Drosha and Dicer. miRNA biogenesis is regulated at multiple levels, including at the level of miRNA transcription; its processing by Drosha and Dicer in the nucleus and cytoplasm, respectively; its modification by RNA editing, RNA methylation, uridylation and adenylation; Argonaute loading; and RNA decay. Non-canonical pathways for miRNA biogenesis, including those that are independent of Drosha or Dicer, are also emerging.
The transdifferentiation of epithelial cells into motile mesenchymal cells, a process known as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), is integral in development, wound healing and stem cell behaviour, and contributes pathologically to fibrosis and cancer progression. This switch in cell differentiation and behaviour is mediated by key transcription factors, including SNAIL, zinc-finger E-box-binding (ZEB) and basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors, the functions of which are finely regulated at the transcriptional, translational and post-translational levels. The reprogramming of gene expression during EMT, as well as non-transcriptional changes, are initiated and controlled by signalling pathways that respond to extracellular cues. Among these, transforming growth factor-beta (TGF beta) family signalling has a predominant role; however, the convergence of signalling pathways is essential for EMT.
Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) are important components of the cellular signalling machinery, allowing the same polypeptide to undertake different interactions with different consequences. IDPs are subject to combinatorial post-translational modifications and alternative splicing, adding complexity to regulatory networks and providing a mechanism for tissue-specific signalling. These proteins participate in the assembly of signalling complexes and in the dynamic self-assembly of membrane-less nuclear and cytoplasmic organelles. Experimental, computational and bioinformatic analyses combine to identify and characterize disordered regions of proteins, leading to a greater appreciation of their widespread roles in biological processes.
The BCL-2 protein family determines the commitment of cells to apoptosis, an ancient cell suicide programme that is essential for development, tissue homeostasis and immunity. Too little apoptosis can promote cancer and autoimmune diseases; too much apoptosis can augment ischaemic conditions and drive neurodegeneration. We discuss the biochemical, structural and genetic studies that have clarified how the interplay between members of the BCL-2 family on mitochondria sets the apoptotic threshold. These mechanistic insights into the functions of the BCL-2 family are illuminating the physiological control of apoptosis, the pathological consequences of its dysregulation and the promising search for novel cancer therapies that target the BCL-2 family.
The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a highly dynamic structure that is present in all tissues and continuously undergoes controlled remodelling. This process involves quantitative and qualitative changes in the ECM, mediated by specific enzymes that are responsible for ECM degradation, such as metalloproteinases. The ECM interacts with cells to regulate diverse functions, including proliferation, migration and differentiation. ECM remodelling is crucial for regulating the morphogenesis of the intestine and lungs, as well as of the mammary and submandibular glands. Dysregulation of ECM composition, structure, stiffness and abundance contributes to several pathological conditions, such as fibrosis and invasive cancer. A better understanding of how the ECM regulates organ structure and function and of how ECM remodelling affects disease progression will contribute to the development of new therapeutics.
The phenomenon of protein aggregation and amyloid formation has become the subject of rapidly increasing research activities across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Such activities have been stimulated by the association of amyloid deposition with a range of debilitating medical disorders, from Alzheimer's disease to type II diabetes, many of which are major threats to human health and welfare in the modern world. It has become clear, however, that the ability to form the amyloid state is more general than previously imagined, and that its study can provide unique insights into the nature of the functional forms of peptides and proteins, as well as understanding the means by which protein homeostasis can be maintained and protein metastasis avoided.
Autophagy and apoptosis control the turnover of organelles and proteins within cells, and of cells within organisms, respectively, and many stress pathways sequentially elicit autophagy, and apoptosis within the same cell. Generally autophagy blocks the induction of apoptosis, and apoptosis-associated caspase activation shuts off the autophagic process. However, in special cases, autophagy or autophagy-relevant proteins may help to induce apoptosis or necrosis, and autophagy has been shown to degrade the cytoplasm excessively, leading to 'autophagic cell death'. The dialogue between autophagy and cell death pathways influences the normal clearance of dying cells, as well as immune recognition of dead cell antigens. Therefore, the disruption of the relationship between autophagy and apoptosis has important pathophysiological consequences.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS), which were originally characterized in terms of their harmful effects on cells and invading microorganisms, are increasingly implicated in various cell fate decisions and signal transduction pathways. The mechanism involved in ROS-dependent signalling involves the reversible oxidation and reduction of specific amino acids, with crucial reactive Cys residues being the most frequent target. In this Review, we discuss the sources of ROS within cells and what is known regarding how intracellular oxidant levels are regulated. We further discuss the recent observations that reduction-oxidation (redox)-dependent regulation has a crucial role in an ever-widening range of biological activities-from immune function to stem cell self-renewal, and from tumorigenesis to ageing.
The basic elements of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF beta) pathway were revealed more than a decade ago. Since then, the concept of how the TGF beta signal travels from the membrane to the nucleus has been enriched with additional findings, and its multifunctional nature and medical relevance have relentlessly come to light. However, an old mystery has endured: how does the context determine the cellular response to TGF beta? Solving this question is key to understanding TGF beta biology and its many malfunctions. Recent progress is pointing at answers.
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a crucial cellular energy sensor. Once activated by falling energy status, it promotes ATP production by increasing the activity or expression of proteins involved in catabolism while conserving ATP by switching off biosynthetic pathways. AMPK also regulates metabolic energy balance at the whole-body level. For example, it mediates the effects of agents acting on the hypothalamus that promote feeding and entrains circadian rhythms of metabolism and feeding behaviour. Finally, recent studies reveal that AMPK conserves ATP levels through the regulation of processes other than metabolism, such as the cell cycle and neuronal membrane excitability.
Recent discoveries are redefining our view of cellular senescence as a trigger of tissue remodelling that acts during normal embryonic development and upon tissue damage. To achieve this, senescent cells arrest their own proliferation, recruit phagocytic immune cells and promote tissue renewal. This sequence of events-senescence, followed by clearance and then regeneration-may not be efficiently completed in aged tissues or in pathological contexts, thereby resulting in the accumulation of senescent cells. Increasing evidence indicates that both pro-senescent therapies and antisenescent therapies can be beneficial. In cancer and during active tissue repair, pro-senescent therapies contribute to minimize the damage by limiting proliferation and fibrosis, respectively. Conversely, antisenescent therapies may help to eliminate accumulated senescent cells and to recover tissue function.
Lysine acetylation is a conserved protein post-translational modification that links acetyl-coenzyme A metabolism and cellular signalling. Recent advances in the identification and quantification of lysine acetylation by mass spectrometry have increased our understanding of lysine acetylation, implicating it in many biological processes through the regulation of protein interactions, activity and localization. In addition, proteins are frequently modified by other types of acytations, such as fornnylation, butyrylation, propionylation, succinylation, malonylation, myristoylation, glutarylation and crotonylation. The intricate link between lysine acylation and cellular metabolism has been clarified by the occurrence of several such metabolite-sensitive acylations and their selective removal by sirtuin deacylases. These emerging findings point to new functions for different lysine acylations and deacylating enzymes and also highlight the mechanisms by which acetylation regulates various cellular processes.
Protein-folding stress at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a salient feature of specialized secretory cells and is also involved in the pathogenesis of many human diseases. ER stress is buffered by the activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR), a homeostatic signalling network that orchestrates the recovery of ER function, and failure to adapt to ER stress results in apoptosis. Progress in the field has provided insight into the regulatory mechanisms and signalling crosstalk of the three branches of the UPR, which are initiated by the stress sensors protein kinase RNA-like ER kinase (PERK), inositol-requiring protein 1 alpha (IRE1 alpha) and activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6). In addition, novel physiological outcomes of the UPR that are not directly related to protein-folding stress, such as innate immunity, metabolism and cell differentiation, have been revealed.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate the expression of most genes in animals, but we are only now beginning to understand how they are generated, assembled into functional complexes and destroyed. Various mechanisms have now been identified that regulate miRNA stability and that diversify miRNA sequences to create distinct isoforms. The production of different isoforms of individual miRNAs in specific cells and tissues may have broader implications for miRNA-mediated gene expression control. Rigorously testing the many discrepant models for how miRNAs function using quantitative biochemical measurements made in vivo and in vitro remains a major challenge for the future.
The protein kinase ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM) is best known for its role as an apical activator of the DNA damage response in the face of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). Following induction of DSBs, ATM mobilizes one of the most extensive signalling networks that responds to specific stimuli and modifies directly or indirectly a broad range of targets. Although most ATM research has focused on this function, evidence suggests that ATM-mediated phosphorylation has a role in the response to other types of genotoxic stress. Moreover, it has become apparent that ATM is active in other cell signalling pathways involved in maintaining cellular homeostasis.
More than 20 years after its discovery, our understanding of target of rapamycin (TOR) signalling continues to grow. Recent global 'omics' studies have revealed physiological roles of mammalian TOR (mTOR) in protein, nucleotide and lipid synthesis. Furthermore, emerging evidence provides new insight into the control of mTOR by other pathways such as Hippo, WNT and Notch signalling. Together, this progress has expanded the list of downstream effectors and upstream regulators of mTOR signalling.
Cell death research was revitalized by the understanding that necrosis can occur in a highly regulated and genetically controlled manner. Although RIPK1 (receptor-interacting protein kinase 1)- and RIPK3-MLKL (mixed lineage kinase domain-like)-mediated necroptosis is the most understood form of regulated necrosis, other examples of this process are emerging, including cell death mechanisms known as parthanatos, oxytosis, ferroptosis, NETosis, pyronecrosis and pyroptosis. Elucidating how these pathways of regulated necrosis are interconnected at the molecular level should enable this process to be therapeutically targeted.
The cloning of the founding member of the Hedgehog (HH) family of secreted proteins two decades ago inaugurated a field that has diversified to encompass embryonic development, stem cell biology and tissue homeostasis. Interest in HH signalling increased when the pathway was implicated in several cancers and congenital syndromes. The mechanism of HH signalling is complex and remains incompletely understood. Nevertheless, studies have revealed novel biological insights into this system, including the function of HH lipidation in the secretion and transport of this ligand and details of the signal transduction pathway, which involves Patched 1, Smoothened and GLI proteins (Cubitus interruptus in Drosophila melanogaster), as well as, in vertebrates, primary cilia.
Healthy cells use autophagy as a general ` housekeeping' mechanism and to survive stress, including stress induced by nutrient deprivation. Autophagy is initiated at the isolation membrane (originally termed the phagophore), and the coordinated action of ATG (autophagy-related) proteins results in the expansion of this membrane to form the autophagosome. Although the biogenesis of the isolation membrane and the autophagosome is complex and incompletely understood, insight has been gained into the molecular processes involved in initiating the isolation membrane, the source from which this originates (for example, it was recently proposed that the isolation membrane forms from the mitochondria-associate-d endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane (MAM)) and the role of ATG proteins and the vesicular trafficking machinery in autophagosome formation.
The importance of the physiological function of phosphatase and tensin homologue (PTEN) is illustrated by its frequent disruption in cancer. By suppressing the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)-AKT-mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway through its lipid phosphatase activity, PTEN governs a plethora of cellular processes including survival, proliferation, energy metabolism and cellular architecture. Consequently, mechanisms regulating PTEN expression and function, including transcriptional regulation, post-transcriptional regulation by non-coding RNAs, post-translational modifications and protein-protein interactions, are all altered in cancer. The repertoire of PTEN functions has recently been expanded to include phosphatase-independent activities and crucial functions within the nucleus. Our increasing knowledge of PTEN and pathologies in which its function is altered will undoubtedly inform the rational design of novel therapies.