Specific SKN-1/Nrf stress responses to perturbations in translation elongation and proteasome activity

PLoS Genet. 2011 Jun;7(6):e1002119. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002119. Epub 2011 Jun 9.


SKN-1, the Caenorhabditis elegans Nrf1/2/3 ortholog, promotes both oxidative stress resistance and longevity. SKN-1 responds to oxidative stress by upregulating genes that detoxify and defend against free radicals and other reactive molecules, a SKN-1/Nrf function that is both well-known and conserved. Here we show that SKN-1 has a broader and more complex role in maintaining cellular stress defenses. SKN-1 sustains expression and activity of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) and coordinates specific protective responses to perturbations in protein synthesis or degradation through the UPS. If translation initiation or elongation is impaired, SKN-1 upregulates overlapping sets of cytoprotective genes and increases stress resistance. When proteasome gene expression and activity are blocked, SKN-1 activates multiple classes of proteasome subunit genes in a compensatory response. SKN-1 thereby maintains UPS activity in the intestine in vivo under normal conditions and promotes survival when the proteasome is inhibited. In contrast, when translation elongation is impaired, SKN-1 does not upregulate proteasome genes, and UPS activity is then reduced. This indicates that UPS activity depends upon presence of an intact translation elongation apparatus; and it supports a model, suggested by genetic and biochemical studies in yeast, that protein synthesis and degradation may be coupled processes. SKN-1 therefore has a critical tissue-specific function in increasing proteasome gene expression and UPS activity under normal conditions, as well as when the UPS system is stressed, but mounts distinct responses when protein synthesis is perturbed. The specificity of these SKN-1-mediated stress responses, along with the apparent coordination between UPS and translation elongation activity, may promote protein homeostasis under stress or disease conditions. The data suggest that SKN-1 may increase longevity, not only through its well-documented role in boosting stress resistance, but also through contributing to protein homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Peptide Chain Elongation, Translational*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / genetics
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitin / genetics
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Ubiquitin
  • skn-1 protein, C elegans
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex