Protein palmitoylation is an essential post-translational modification necessary for trafficking, localization and function of numerous proteins that play key roles in cell growth and signaling. Two major recent breakthroughs that have advanced this field include the discovery of a large family (DHHC family) of palmitoyl acyl transferases (PATs) that mediate protein palmitoylation, and development of highly sensitive and quantitative proteomics-based methods for global analysis of the palmitoyl proteome. TCR-induced T cell activation depends on multi-protein lipid raft-associated complexes highly enriched in palmitoyl proteins. In 2006, we discovered that anergic T cells display a selective defect in the palmitoylation of the adaptor LAT, resulting in intracellular retention of LAT and failure to promote TCR-induced T cell activation. In preliminary studies supported by an NIH R21 grant, we identified several candidate PATs that: i) enhance LAT palmitoylation;ii) physically associate with it;iii) are down-regulated in anergic T cells;and/or iv) are required for TCR-induced IL-2 production. In addition, we initiated a collaboration with Dr. B. Cravatt's laboratory to conduct a proteomics-based global analysis of protein palmitoylation in anergic vs. control T cells. These studies provide a rational basis for the following studies:
Aim 1. We will confirm and identify LAT-palmitoylating PATs and analyze their substrate specificity;study the effects of PAT knockdown on the stability, turnover and sorting of LAT and its palmitate;and analyze the effects of knocking-down these PATs on various aspects of T cell activation and anergy in vitro and in vivo, including T cell differentiation and cytokine production.
Aim 2. We will characterize and study the biological relevance of physical associations between LAT and LAT-palmitoylating DHHC proteins by conducting imaging/colocalization studies, mapping respective critical regions in LAT and its PATs that are required for substrate association and palmitoylation, and analyzing the effect of LAT mutations that abolish DHHC protein-LAT interactions on the functionality of LAT in a Lat-null background.
Aim 3. We will compare the palmitoyl proteome in anergic vs. control T cells, and identify physiological PAT substrates of DHHC15 in PAT knockdown T cells by using stable isotope labeling with amino acids in cell culture (SILAC) coupled to metabolic labeling with the alkynyl fatty acid analog 17-octadecynoic acid. After alkynyl fatty acid incorporation into endogenous palmitoylation sites, heavy and light membrane proteomes will be mixed and coupled to biotin-azide using click chemistry, enriched on streptavidin-agarose beads, trypsinized, and analyzed using multidimensional protein identification technology (MudPIT) on a high-resolution mass spectrometer. These studies will establish for the first time the function and substrate specificity of selected PATs in T cells, reveal the role of altered protein palmitoylation in T cell activation and anergy, and pave the way to a greatly improved understanding of the mechanistic aspects of protein palmitoylation in T cell biology, and to the validation of DHHC proteins as drug targets in immunological diseases.
Many cellular proteins can be modified by addition of a lipid moiety in a process termed protein palmitoylation, which plays an important role in regulating the localization, trafficking and function of these proteins. Based on our preliminary findings that documented a defect in this process in T lymphocytes that can poorly respond to antigen stimulus (i.e., are anergic), we will study the enzymes that mediate protein palmitoylation and their importance in T cell activation. Results of the proposed study may validate these enzymes as potential drug targets, and open the way to rational design of enzyme inhibitors.