SNARE proteins mediate membrane fusion events in virtually all cellular membrane trafficking pathways. We have discovered an unexpected, novel function of the SNARE protein syntaxin 3 (Stx3). Stx3 normally has a C-terminal trans-membrane anchor and is involved in trafficking to the apical plasma membrane domain of polarized epithelial cells. We found that Stx3 undergoes cleavage at an extremely conserved glutamine residue which removes its trans-membrane domain resulting in a soluble fragment, Stx3(1-225). Furthermore, a novel splice-isoform of Stx3 (Stx3E) lacks the trans-membrane anchor, and is expressed in human kidneys. Both, the cleavage fragment and Stx3E (collectively called "soluble Stx3") bind to the nuclear import factor RanBP5, target to the nucleus and co-activate several transcription factors including ETV4. ETV4 is required for branching morphogenesis in kidney development, and associated with carcinogenesis and tumor metastasis. We found that kidneys from Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD) patients express a small Stx3 fragment - consistent with soluble Stx3 ! We hypothesize that cleavage and transcriptional regulation in the nucleus is a novel function that may be a common feature of syntaxin members of SNARE proteins. This may be a novel signaling mechanism that transduces information from cytoplasmic membrane trafficking events to the nucleus to affect changes in gene expression. If correct, this would introduce a new paradigm of SNARE function. More specifically, we hypothesize that soluble Stx3 plays a role in the regulation of renal epithelial morphogenesis, carcinogenesis and ADPKD. ! To test these hypotheses, we will pursue the following Specific Aims.
In Aim 1, we will investigate the biological effects of soluble Stx3 in polarized epithelial cells. This will be done by expressing soluble Stx3 in epithelial cell lines - or knocking down Stx3E expression - and investigating possible effects on cellular parameters including morphology, proliferation, apoptosis and cell polarity.
In Aim 2, we will identify the exact cleavage site of Stx3 in vitro and in vivo. We will investigate the expression of soluble Stx3 in epithelial cancers and ADPKD by using human tissue specimens and mouse models of ADPKD.
In Aim 3, we will investigate the mechanism of transcriptional activity of soluble Stx3 and its regulation of ETV4. We will test whether soluble Stx3 interacts with the general transcription machinery and whether it regulates ETV4 stability or nuclear localization.
Our preliminary work has led to the discovery of a novel signaling function of a member of the SNARE membrane fusion proteins, syntaxin 3. This unexpected finding suggests that other syntaxins may have similar signaling properties in addition to their roles in membrane trafficking and would introduce a new paradigm of SNARE function. Our proposed work is highly significant for a wide range of scientific fields in the biomedical sciences and will shed light on potentially significant implications for our understanding of kidney morphogenesis and carcinogenesis.