Purpose: Mounting evidence implicates chronic oxidative stress as a significant pathogenic factor in the development and progression of retinopathies, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The age-dependent toxic accumulation of oxidatively damaged proteins, lipids, and DNA in susceptible cells of the retina arises, at least in part, from a decreased capacity to eliminate these damaged biomolecules. The goal of this study was to determine the expression patterns and function of class III ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes (UbcM3, UBE2E2, and UbcM2) in the retina. These enzymes have been implicated in the ubiquitin-dependent degradation of oxidatively damaged and misfolded proteins.
Methods: Complementary western blotting and immunohistochemistry was performed with specific antibodies to determine the retinal cell expression pattern of each enzyme. Additional analyses using antibodies raised against UbcM2 were performed to determine the relative levels of the enzyme in lysates derived from various mouse organs as compared to the retina. An established light-damage model of oxidative stress-induced retinal degeneration was used to determine alterations in the susceptibility of mice harboring a single intact allele of UbcM2. Ubiquitin charging and auto-ubiquitylation assays were done to assess the catalytic state of UbcM2 following photo-oxidative stress.
Results: Expression of the class III ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes in the retina, from highest to lowest, is UbcM2>UbcM3>UBE2E2. In addition to being the most robustly expressed, UbcM2 is further distinguished by its expression in photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelial cells. UbcM2 is expressed in most mouse tissues analyzed and is most abundant in the retina. Studies using a bright-light-damage model of acute oxidative stress in mice harboring a single disrupted allele of UbcM2 revealed that a 58% reduction in enzyme levels did not increase the susceptibility of photoreceptors to acute photo-oxidative toxicity. This result may be explained by the observation that UbcM2 retained an intact and functional active site following exposure to acute bright light.
Conclusions: The class III ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes, and in particular UbcM2, are expressed in the retina and may function to counter the accumulation of oxidatively damaged and misfolded proteins. A 58% reduction in UbcM2 does not increase the susceptibility of photoreceptors to an acute photo-oxidative stress, suggesting the existence of compensating enzymes and/or that the remaining UbcM2 activity is sufficient to target oxidatively damaged proteins for destruction.