Background: Jeff is a dominant mouse mutant displaying chronic otitis media. The gene underlying Jeff is Fbxo11, a member of the large F-box family, which are specificity factors for the SCF E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. Jeff homozygotes die shortly after birth displaying a number of developmental abnormalities including cleft palate and eyes open at birth. TGF-beta signalling is involved in a number of epithelial developmental processes and we have investigated the impact of the Jeff mutation on the expression of this pathway.
Results: Phospho-Smad2 (pSmad2) is significantly upregulated in epithelia of Jeff homozygotes. Moreover, there was a significant increase in nuclear localization of pSmad2 in contrast to wild type. Mice heterozygous for both Jeff and Smad2 mutations recapitulate many of the features of the Jeff homozygous phenotype. However, tissue immunoprecipitations failed to detect any interaction between Fbxo11 and Smad2. Fbxo11 is known to neddylate p53, a co-factor of pSmad2, but we did not find any evidence of genetic interactions between Jeff and p53 mutants. Nevertheless, p53 levels are substantially reduced in Jeff mice suggesting that Fbxo11 plays a role in stabilizing p53.
Conclusion: Overall, our findings support a model whereby Fbxo11, possibly via stabilization of p53, is required to limit the accumulation of pSmad2 in the nucleus of epithelial cells of palatal shelves, eyelids and airways of the lungs. The finding that Fbxo11 impacts upon TGF-beta signalling has important implications for our understanding of the underlying disease mechanisms of middle ear inflammatory disease.