The role of endoplasmic reticulum stress in disease
Proteins destined for secretion or for insertion into the cell membrane are first folded within the endoplasmic reticulum. The process of protein folding can become defective in many disease states such as hypoxia, malignancy and some forms of diabetes. When the level of misfolded proteins within the endoplasmic reticulum increases, the cell is said to experience ‘endoplasmic reticulum stress’.
We wish to understand the cellular consequences of endoplasmic reticulum stress, in particular its effects on tissue growth and cell survival. In doing so, we hope to identify targets for the development of novel therapies. During endoplasmic reticulum stress, protein biosynthesis is initially attenuated through phosphorylation of the translation initiation factor eIF2α by the kinase PERK. Subsequent dephosphorylation of eIF2α following the induction of the phosphatase PPP1R15a (GADD34) restores protein translation. We previously discovered that this recovery of translation can contribute to the toxic effects of endoplasmic reticulum stress. This raises the exciting possibility that modulation of eIF2α phosphorylation may provide a useful target for the development of novel drugs to protect tissues from cell death.
Cellular stresses frequently impair cell cycle progression, which can prejudice tissue growth. Using mammalian cell biology and Drosophila genetics we recently described a novel G2 cell cycle checkpoint initiated by translation attenuation during endoplasmic reticulum stress. This too provides potential targets for the development of new therapies.