Cullin proteins are molecular scaffolds that have crucial roles in the post-translational modification of cellular proteins involving ubiquitin. The mammalian cullin protein family comprises eight members (CUL1 to CUL7 and PARC), which are characterized by a cullin homology domain. CUL1 to CUL7 assemble multi-subunit Cullin-RING E3 ubiquitin ligase (CRL) complexes, the largest family of E3 ligases with more than 200 members. Although CUL7 and PARC are present only in chordates, other members of the cullin protein family are found in Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, Arabidopsis thaliana and yeast. A cullin protein tethers both a substrate-targeting unit, often through an adaptor protein, and the RING finger component in a CRL. The cullin-organized CRL thus positions a substrate close to the RING-bound E2 ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme, which catalyzes the transfer of ubiquitin to the substrate. In addition, conjugation of cullins with the ubiquitin-like molecule Nedd8 modulates activation of the corresponding CRL complex, probably through conformational regulation of the interactions between cullin's carboxy-terminal tail and CRL's RING subunit. Genetic studies in several model organisms have helped to unravel a multitude of physiological functions associated with cullin proteins and their respective CRLs. CRLs target numerous substrates and thus have an impact on a range of biological processes, including cell growth, development, signal transduction, transcriptional control, genomic integrity and tumor suppression. Moreover, mutations in CUL7 and CUL4B genes have been linked to hereditary human diseases.
© 2011 BioMed Central Ltd