Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Massachusetts
Ph.D.: University of California, San Francisco
Regulated protein degradation in bacterial cell-cycle progression
Protein degradation is an essential process for all biological life. Damaged or improperly folded proteins need to be cleared from the cell before they elicit toxic effects. Regulatory proteins need to be degraded so that the response they support exists only as long as it is necessary. However, as proteolysis is an irreversible event, great care must be taken to only degrade those factors as needed without disturbing the balance of other proteins. In eukaryotes, exquisite selectivity is generated through cascading molecular events that together yield a ubiquitination signal which targets a substrate for degradation. As no such system exists in bacteria, the highly specific nature of protein degradation must be accomplished at the level of direct recognition of the substrate or by utilizing auxiliary factors to improve specificity. The general objectives of the Chien lab are to understand how these substrates are recognized in a precise fashion and the impact of substrate degradation on the various regulatory networks of the cell.
A number of critical unresolved questions emerge from these observations. How does CtrA degradation occur specifically at the G1-S transition? How does dephosphorylated CpdR activate ClpXP and what is the molecular nature of this interaction? Interestingly, although ClpXP is essential, CtrA degradation is not needed for viability. If ClpXP is necessary because of its proteolytic activity, what substrates must be degraded? Because targeted proteolysis is critical for virulence and environmental sensing pathways in many bacteria, a deeper understanding of its regulation will reveal how cells respond to environmental cues and could potentially lead to development of new antibiotic therapies.
We approach these questions using many approaches including biochemistry, structural biology and cell biology. Our ultimate goal is to identify factors needed for the precisely timed degradation of key substrates and to biochemically reconstitute regulated proteolysis using purified components. By understanding how mechanisms specific to our system enforce proper protein lifetimes, we hope to understand how regulated proteolysis is generally controlled. Furthermore, as ClpX is a member of a larger class of other molecular machines whose primary role is to aid in the proper folding of proteins, lessons learned from our studies will also shed light on a broader understanding of energy driven protein folding and unfolding.
Vass, RH, Chien. P. "Critical clamp loader processing by an essential AAA+ protease in Caulobacter crescentus." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Nov 5;110(45):18138-43. doi:10.1073/pnas.1311302110.
Chowdhury, T, Chien, P, Ebrahim, S, Sauer, R.T., Baker, T. The ClpX-recognition sequence of SspB in C.crescentus reveals versatile modes of protein recognition by the N-terminal domain of the AAA+ unfoldase ClpX. Protein Science 19(2):242-54 (2010).
Kobayashi H, De Nisco NJ, Chien P, Simmons LA, Walker GC. Sinorhizobium meliloti CpdR1 is critical for co-ordinating cell cycle progression and the symbiotic chronic infection. Mol Microbiol. 73(4):586-600 (2009).
Chien, P., Grant, R.A., Sauer, R.T., Baker, T.A. Structure and Substrate Specificity of an SspB Ortholog: Design Implications for AAA+ Adaptors. Structure. 15(10):1296-305 (2007).
Chien, P., Perchuk, B.S., Laub, M.T., Sauer, R.T., Baker, T.A. Direct and adaptor-mediated substrate recognition by an essential AAA+ protease. PNAS 104(16):6590-5 (2007).