The nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) mechanism is an evolutionarily conserved process ensuring the degradation of transcripts carrying premature termination codon(s). NMD is believed to prevent the synthesis of truncated proteins that could be detrimental to the cell. However, although numerous studies have assessed the efficiency of this mechanism at the mRNA level, data are lacking in regard to whether NMD fulfills its expected goal at the protein level. In this study, we have investigated whether endogenous alleles of breast cancer predisposing genes carrying nonsense codons were able to produce detectable amounts of truncated proteins in lymphoblastoid cell lines. A total of 20 truncating BRCA1 mutations were analyzed, along with the 1100delC CHEK2 and the 770delT TP53 mutations. All the studied alleles triggered NMD, the amount of mutant transcript ranging from 16 to 63% of that of the wild-type species. We found that BRCA1 and CHK2 truncated proteins could not be detected, even when NMD was inhibited. This suggests that BRCA1 and CHK2 truncated proteins are highly unstable. Conversely, the p53 protein encoded by the 770delT allele is as abundant as the wild-type protein, as removal of the C-terminal p53 domain leads to a stabilized mutant protein, whose abundance is markedly increased when NMD is inhibited. Therefore, our results show that it is not possible to infer the presence of truncated proteins in cells from carriers of a truncated mutation without experimental verification, as each case is expected to be different.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.