BACKGROUND - Autophagy is characterized by the sequestration of cytoplasm and organelles into multimembrane vesicles and subsequent degradation by the cell's lysosomal system. It is linked to many physiological functions in human cells including stress response, protein degradation, organelle turnover, caspase-independent cell death and tumor suppression. Malignant transformation is frequently associated with deregulation of autophagy and several tumor suppressors can modulate autophagic processes. The tumor suppressor p53 can induce autophagy after metabolic or genotoxic stress through transcriptionally-dependent and -independent mechanisms. In this study we expand on the former mechanism by functionally characterizing a p53 family target gene, ISG20L1 under conditions of genotoxic stress.
RESULTS - We identified a p53 target gene, ISG20L1, and show that transcription of the gene can be regulated by all three p53 family members (p53, p63, and p73). We generated an antibody to ISG20L1 and found that it localizes to the nucleolar and perinucleolar regions of the nucleus and its protein levels increase in a p53- and p73-dependent manner after various forms of genotoxic stress. When ectopically expressed in epithelial cancer-derived cell lines, ISG20L1 expression decreased clonogenic survival without a concomitant elevation in apoptosis and this effect was partially rescued in cells that were ATG5 deficient. Knockdown of ISG20L1 did not alter 5-FU induced apoptosis as assessed by PARP and caspase-3 cleavage, sub-G1 content, and DNA laddering. Thus, we investigated the role of ISG20L1 in autophagy, a process commonly associated with type II cell death, and found that ISG20L1 knockdown decreased levels of autophagic vacuoles and LC3-II after genotoxic stress as assessed by electron microscopy, biochemical, and immunohistochemical measurements of LC3-II.
CONCLUSIONS - Our identification of ISG20L1 as a p53 family target and discovery that modulation of this target can regulate autophagic processes further strengthens the connection between p53 signaling and autophagy. Given the keen interest in targeting autophagy as an anticancer therapeutic approach in tumor cells that are defective in apoptosis, investigation of genes and signaling pathways involved in cell death associated with autophagy is critical.