Background: The serious biological consequences of metal toxicity are well documented, but the key modes of action of most metals are unknown. To help unravel molecular mechanisms underlying the action of chromium, a metal of major toxicological importance, we grew over 6,000 heterozygous yeast mutants in competition in the presence of chromium. Microarray-based screens of these heterozygotes are truly genome-wide as they include both essential and non-essential genes.
Results: The screening data indicated that proteasomal (protein degradation) activity is crucial for cellular chromium (Cr) resistance. Further investigations showed that Cr causes the accumulation of insoluble and toxic protein aggregates, which predominantly arise from proteins synthesised during Cr exposure. A protein-synthesis defect provoked by Cr was identified as mRNA mistranslation, which was oxygen-dependent. Moreover, Cr exhibited synergistic toxicity with a ribosome-targeting drug (paromomycin) that is known to act via mistranslation, while manipulation of translational accuracy modulated Cr toxicity.
Conclusion: The datasets from the heterozygote screen represent an important public resource that may be exploited to discover the toxic mechanisms of chromium. That potential was validated here with the demonstration that mRNA mistranslation is a primary cause of cellular Cr toxicity.