Suppression of Myc oncogenic activity by ribosomal protein haploinsufficiency

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The Myc oncogene regulates the expression of several components of the protein synthetic machinery, including ribosomal proteins, initiation factors of translation, RNA polymerase III and ribosomal DNA1,2. Whether and how increasing the cellular protein synthesis capacity affects the multistep process leading to cancer remains to be addressed. Here we use ribosomal protein heterozygote mice as a genetic tool to restore increased protein synthesis in Eμ-Myc/+ transgenic mice to normal levels, and show that the oncogenic potential of Myc in this context is suppressed. Our findings demonstrate that the ability of Myc to increase protein synthesis directly augments cell size and is sufficient to accelerate cell cycle progression independently of known cell cycle targets transcriptionally regulated by Myc. In addition, when protein synthesis is restored to normal levels, Myc-overexpressing precancerous cells are more efficiently eliminated by programmed cell death. Our findings reveal a new mechanism that links increases in general protein synthesis rates downstream of an oncogenic signal to a specific molecular impairment in the modality of translation initiation used to regulate the expression of selective messenger RNAs. We show that an aberrant increase in cap-dependent translation downstream of Myc hyperactivation specifically impairs the translational switch to internal ribosomal entry site (IRES)-dependent translation that is required for accurate mitotic progression. Failure of this translational switch results in reduced mitotic-specific expression of the endogenous IRES-dependent form of Cdk11 (also known as Cdc2l and PITSLRE)3,4,5, which leads to cytokinesis defects and is associated with increased centrosome numbers and genome instability in Eμ-Myc/+ mice. When accurate translational control is re-established in Eμ-Myc/+ mice, genome instability is suppressed. Our findings demonstrate how perturbations in translational control provide a highly specific outcome for gene expression, genome stability and cancer initiation that have important implications for understanding the molecular mechanism of cancer formation at the post-genomic level.

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Figure 1: Myc-induced increases in protein synthesis regulates B-lymphocyte size, division and apoptosis before lymphomagenesis.
Figure 2: The ability of Myc to augment protein synthesis is necessary for its oncogenic potential.
Figure 3: Myc hyperactivation impairs the translational switch from cap- to IRES-dependent translation control during mitosis and blocks mitotic translation of the Cdk11 kinase.
Figure 4: Aberrant translation control downstream of Myc activation underlies cytokinesis defects and genome instability.


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We thank F. McCormick, G. Evan and P. O’Farrell for critically reading the manuscript; J. Testa for support and critical discussion during early stages of this work; W. Xu and R. Adamo for technical assistance; J. Copley for editing the manuscript, S. Cornelis for the Cdk11 IRES bicistronic vector. This work was supported by the NIH (D.R.) and the Sandler Foundation (M.B.).

Author Contributions M.B. and D.R. conceived the experiments. M.B. designed and M.B., A.Y., O.Z., M.C. and N.K. performed experiments and collected data. E.R. analysed the lymphoid compartment of ribosomal protein heterozygote mice. P.H.R. designed, performed and interpreted CGH experiments. M.B. and D.R. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Maria Barna or Davide Ruggero.

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Barna, M., Pusic, A., Zollo, O. et al. Suppression of Myc oncogenic activity by ribosomal protein haploinsufficiency. Nature 456, 971–975 (2008) doi:10.1038/nature07449

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