The basic helix-loop-helix/leucine zipper (bHLH/ZIP) microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF) regulates transcription of genes encoding enzymes essential for melanin biosynthesis in melanocytes and retinal pigmented epithelial cells. To determine how MITF activity is regulated, we used the yeast two-hybrid system to identify proteins expressed by human melanoma cells that interact with MITF. The majority of clones that showed positive interaction with a 158-amino-acid region of MITF containing the bHLH/ZIP domain (aa 168-325) encoded the ubiquitin conjugating enzyme hUBC9. The association of MITF with hUBC9 was further confirmed by an in vitro GST pull-down assay. Although hUBC9 is known to interact preferentially with SENTRIN/SUMO1, in vitro transcription/translation analysis demonstrated greater association of MITF with ubiquitin than with SENTRIN. Importantly, cotransfection of MITF and hUBC9 expression vectors resulted in MITF protein degradation. MITF protein was stabilized by the proteasome inhibitor MG132, indicating the role of the ubiquitin-proteasome system in MITF degradation. Serine 73, which is located in a region rich in proline, glutamic acid, serine, and threonine (PEST), regulates MITF protein stability, since a serine to alanine mutation prevented hUBC9-mediated MITF (S73A) degradation. Furthermore, we identified lysine 201 as a potential ubiquitination site. A lysine to arginine mutation abolished MITF (K201R) degradation by hUBC9 in vivo. Our experiments indicate that by targeting MITF for proteasome degradation, hUBC9 is a critical regulator of melanocyte differentiation.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.