Research Article

Dynamic profiling of the protein life cycle in response to pathogens

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Science  06 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6226, 1259038
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259038

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How the immune system readies for battle

Although gene expression is tightly controlled at both the RNA and protein levels, the quantitative contribution of each step, especially during dynamic responses, remains largely unknown. Indeed, there has been much debate whether changes in RNA level contribute substantially to protein-level regulation. Jovanovic et al. built a genome-scale model of the temporal dynamics of differential protein expression during the stimulation of immunological dendritic cells (see the Perspective by Li and Biggin). Newly stimulated functions involved the up-regulation of specific RNAs and concomitant increases in the levels of the proteins they encode, whereas housekeeping functions were regulated posttranscriptionally at the protein level.

Science, this issue 10.1126/science.1259038; see also p. 1066

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

Mammalian gene expression is tightly controlled through the interplay between the RNA and protein life cycles. Although studies of individual genes have shown that regulation of each of these processes is important for correct protein expression, the quantitative contribution of each step to changes in protein expression levels remains largely unknown and much debated. Many studies have attempted to address this question in the context of steady-state protein levels, and comparing steady-state RNA and protein abundances has indicated a considerable discrepancy between RNA and protein levels. In contrast, only a few studies have attempted to shed light on how changes in each of these processes determine differential protein expression—either relative (ratios) or absolute (differences)—during dynamic responses, and only one recent report has attempted to quantitate each process. Understanding these contributions to a dynamic response on a systems scale is essential both for deciphering how cells deploy regulatory processes to accomplish physiological changes and for discovering key molecular regulators controlling each process.

RATIONALE

We developed an integrated experimental and computational strategy to quantitatively assess how protein levels are maintained in the context of a dynamic response and applied it to the model response of mouse immune bone marrow–derived dendritic cells (DCs) to stimulation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). We used a modified pulsed-SILAC (stable isotope labeling with amino acids in cell culture) approach to track newly synthesized and previously labeled proteins over the first 12 hours of the response. In addition, we independently measured replicate RNA-sequencing profiles under the same conditions. We devised a computational strategy to infer per-mRNA translation rates and protein degradation rates at each time point from the temporal transcriptional profiles and pulsed-SILAC proteomics data. This allowed us to build a genome-scale quantitative model of the temporal dynamics of differential protein expression in DCs responding to LPS.

RESULTS

We found that before stimulation, mRNA levels contribute to overall protein expression levels more than double the combined contribution of protein translation and degradation rates. Upon LPS stimulation, changes in mRNA abundance play an even more dominant role in dynamic changes in protein levels, especially in immune response genes. Nevertheless, several protein modules—especially the preexisting proteome of proteins performing basic cellular functions—are predominantly regulated in stimulated cells at the level of protein translation or degradation, accounting for over half of the absolute change in protein molecules in the cell. In particular, despite the repression of their transcripts, the level of many proteins in the translational machinery is up-regulated upon LPS stimulation because of significantly increased translation rates, and elevated protein degradation of mitochondrial proteins plays a central role in remodeling cellular energy metabolism.

CONCLUSIONS

Our results support a model in which the induction of novel cellular functions is primarily driven through transcriptional changes, whereas regulation of protein production or degradation updates the levels of preexisting functions as required for an activated state. Our approach for building quantitative genome-scale models of the temporal dynamics of protein expression is broadly applicable to other dynamic systems.

Dynamic protein expression regulation in dendritic cells upon stimulation with LPS.

We developed an integrated experimental and computational strategy to quantitatively assess how protein levels are maintained in the context of a dynamic response. Our results support a model in which the induction of novel cellular functions is primarily driven through transcriptional changes, whereas regulation of protein production or degradation updates the levels of preexisting functions.

Abstract

Protein expression is regulated by the production and degradation of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) and proteins, but their specific relationships remain unknown. We combine measurements of protein production and degradation and mRNA dynamics so as to build a quantitative genomic model of the differential regulation of gene expression in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated mouse dendritic cells. Changes in mRNA abundance play a dominant role in determining most dynamic fold changes in protein levels. Conversely, the preexisting proteome of proteins performing basic cellular functions is remodeled primarily through changes in protein production or degradation, accounting for more than half of the absolute change in protein molecules in the cell. Thus, the proteome is regulated by transcriptional induction for newly activated cellular functions and by protein life-cycle changes for remodeling of preexisting functions.

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