Protein modification by ubiquitin (Ub) is a critical regulatory process for virtually all aspects of cell biology. Substrate proteins can be modified with single ubiquitin on one (monoubiquitylation) or multiple sites (multi-ubiquitylation). Alternatively, several rounds of ubiquitination can occur on ubiquitin itself, leading to the formation of a polyubiquitin chain. Any of the seven lysines, or the amino terminus, of ubiquitin can be used to polymerize ubiquitin (Peng et al., 2003), so there are a huge number of differently linked polyubiquitin signals that can be formed. Ub signals are reversible as ubiquitin can be removed from substrates by deubiquitinating enzymes. The diverse Ub signals are recognized in cells by a myriad of receptors that carry distinct ubiquitin binding motifs recognizing mono- or polyubiquitinated substrates (Hicke et al., 2005). The mechanisms that regulate deubiquitinases in the cells are unclear. Here we characterize 34 human DUBs including 25 USP, 4 OTU, 1 Josephin and 4 UCHL subfamily members. We show that many of these enzymes are reversibly inactivated when oxidized by reactive oxygen species (ROS) in vitro and in the cell. Oxidation occurs preferentially on the catalytic cysteine, abrogating the isopeptide-cleaving activity without affecting these enzymes affinity to ubiquitin. Sensitivity to oxidative inhibition is associated with the activation of the DUBs wherein the active site cysteine is converted to a deprotonated state prone to oxidation. We further demonstrate that this redox-dependent regulation is essential for mono-ubiquitination of PCNA to occur in response to oxidative DNA damage, which initiates a DNA damage tolerance program. These findings establish a novel mechanism of DUB regulation that may be integrated with other redox-dependent signaling circuits to govern cellular adaptation to oxidative stress, a process intimately linked to aging and cancer.
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