Co-expression and functional assay of human Rb and E2F1 proteins in yeast
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The mammalian cell cycle is composed of a myriad interactions occurring in a defined sequence dictated by the flow of entropy. The decision to study the cell cycle requires entry into a world where events take place, not because they want to, but because they have to. Cells do not 'decide' to perform certain actions, but are driven by the laws of nature, the same laws that are responsible for the existence of the universe. Study of this maelstrom of reactions is truly analogous to opening Pandora's proverbial box. A peek inside and all the inner workings of the cell start to spill out. Unfortunately, this is where things start to get complicated. Serendipitously, simpler alternatives are available. The yeast cell cycle is remarkably similar to that of higher animals. The Rb and E2F 1 proteins are integral components of the mammalian cell cycle, and as such, they are found in aberrant forms in numerous malignancies. This necessitates an adequate means for the determination of the cellular status of these proteins, as prognosis and diagnosis of several neoplastic disorders are dependentthereon. This study aimed to develop a yeast-based strategy for functional analysis of the human tumour suppressor protein Rb. This goal was impeded by one factor; the yeast cell cycle is too similar to that of humans. Several yeast strains, derived from W303-lA, were constructed that each contain a reporter gene -the lacZ gene of E. coli- regulated by E2F recognition elements introduced within the upstream CyC1 promoter. The theory was that in the absence of Rb, ectopically expressed human E2F 1 protein would be able to bind the RE and activate transcription of the reporter gene, ultimately resulting in a readily observable product. In the presence of functional Rb, E2Fl would be bound by the tumour suppressor protein, and thus be incapable of activating the reporter gene. This would provide an assay of Rb status, based not on tedious sequencing analysis of the genetic material, but on the actual functional activity of the protein. When dealing with Mother Nature, though, we are oftentimes reminded that she has thought of everything. S. cerevisiae contains an E2F-like activity, capable of binding the exact RE introduced into the reporter gene promoter. This was confirmed by experiments in this study, where the reporter gene was activated in the absence of ectopically expressed E2F1 protein. The endogenous yeast E2F-like protein is thus able to activate transcription of the reporter gene, negating the effect that would be observed by ectopic expression of human E2F 1, and thus, all Rb-expression was performed in the absence of eo-expressed human E2F 1. Since it is impossible to distinguish between the yeast and human E2F activities, it is impossible to create a functional assay for Rb activity in the W303-1Aderived chimeras constructed. As mentioned previously, it could be possible to overcome this problem by knocking out the yeast-borne E2F activity, but this approach is restricted by two barriers. Firstly, the yeast equivalent of the E2F-family is yet to be cloned. This problem can be approached with a transposon-based strategy. The endogenous E2F activity is capable of activating transcription of the lacZ reporter gene, and in so doing, provides a convenient assay for YE2F integrity. Through the use of a plasmid containing an inducible transposase it should be possible to disrupt the YE2F -encoding gene through integration of a transposon. This would be accompanied by an inability of the yeast to activate the reporter gene. The transposon, containing flanking genomic DNA, could then be retrieved and provide the basis for cloning the gene coding for YE2F. Since the reporter gene is specific for E2F-like binding, retrieval of non-specific factors should be negated. A second problem is that, since the E2F proteins play an important role in the progression of the cell cycle in higher animals, it is possible that the yeast would not survive knocking out its homologue. Relegation of YE2F to the role of bystander could possibly wreak havoc with the delicate mechanism that is the cell cycle. Still, it would be interesting to further pursue this idea. Ectopic expression of human Rb in the various strains used in this study provided some interesting results. Transformation of pAWl, followed by galactose-based induction of Rb expression resulted in observable differences in growth characteristics of certain strains. Those most affected were W-lf and W-1r, which each contain a single repeat of the E2F RE within the upstream promoter of the reporter gene, albeit in forward and reverse orientations, respectively. The effect was particularly evident in W-1r, where expression of Rb resulted in complete cessation of growth, probably due to binding of yeast E2F-like activity. These results could not, however, be reconciled with those obtained from cell cycle analysis with the aid of flow cytometry. These experiments did not show any significant effect of Rb expression on the cell cycle of the examined strains. This is possibly due to an insufficient period of observation, but this could, unfortunately, neither be confirmed nor dismissed. From the results obtained in this study it appears that construction of an apposite reporter system for the functional assay of Rb is perhaps more tricky than would be expected. The interference of endogenous proteins is a cause for concern in a development strategy such as this, and serves as a caveat for future studies in this field.