Topoisomerase I (TOP1) relaxes superhelical DNA through a breakage/rejoining reaction in which the active site tyrosine links covalently to a 3' phosphate at the break site as a transient intermediate. The antitumor drug camptothecin (CPT) and its analogs inhibit the rejoining step of the breakage/rejoining reaction, which traps the enzyme in covalent linkage with DNA (the cleavable complex). Little is known about the fate of cellular TOP1 trapped in the clearable complex. We have analyzed TOP1 in mammalian cell lines treated with CPT. When CPT-treated cells were lysed with either SDS or alkali and analyzed by Western blotting, greater than 90% of the TOP1 was linked to DNA. Nuclease treatment of the cell lysate to remove the covalently linked DNA from TOP1 revealed a distinct ladder of higher molecular weight bands having properties indicative of multi-ubiquitin (Ub) conjugates of TOP1. Approximately 5-10% of TOP1 was present as these conjugates within minutes of CPT treatment. Consistent with ubiquitination, TOP1 was not modified in ts85 cells at the restrictive temperature for its thermolabile ubiquitin-activating enzyme (El). Because conjugation with ubiquitin can mark proteins for destruction by the 26S proteasome, we analyzed TOP1 protein levels during prolonged CPT treatment. TOP1 protein levels were reduced to about 25% during CPT treatments of 2-4 h resulting from increased destruction, with the half-life dropping from 10-16 h down to 1-2 h. The destruction of TOP1, like the formation of Ub-TOP1 conjugates, was not observed in ts85 cells at the restrictive temperature. The destruction of TOP1 was also prevented in cells treated with MG-132 and lactacystin, specific inhibitors of the 26S proteasome. Finally, the multi-Ub conjugates of TOP1 were observed whether or not aphidicolin was included in cotreatment with CPT, indicating that replication fork activity was not involved in making TOP1 a substrate for ubiquitination. These results demonstrate that independent of DNA replication, the TOP1 clearable complex is ubiquitinated and destroyed in cells treated with antitumor drugs that block the religation step of the TOP1 reaction.
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