Methods for studying ER stress and UPR markers in human cells

Methods Mol Biol. 2015;1292:3-18. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2522-3_1.


Many experimentally induced or disease-related cellular dysfunctions stress the endoplasmic reticulum, commonly resulting in an accumulation of unfolded proteins in the ER lumen which is sensed by three ER-resident transmembrane proteins, PERK, ATF6, and IRE1. Their activation by such ER stress affects the unfolded protein response, which consists of a shutoff of protein translation and at the same time the switching-on of specific transcription factors that control genes which function to reduce the burden of unfolded proteins to the ER. Here, we describe two sets of methods for monitoring the occurrence of ER stress and UPR signaling in human cells by analyzing markers of activation of all three ER stress sensor proteins. The first set of methods is based on the qualitative and quantitative analysis of UPR-induced transcripts by qPCR. The second set of methods consists of Western blot-based analysis of UPR-induced proteins or protein modifications. Their combined analysis allows assessment of activation of all three ER stress-activated signaling pathways that in combination are characteristic for the UPR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activating Transcription Factor 6 / analysis
  • Activating Transcription Factor 6 / metabolism
  • Biological Assay / methods*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress / physiology*
  • Endoribonucleases / analysis
  • Endoribonucleases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / analysis
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Unfolded Protein Response / physiology*
  • eIF-2 Kinase / analysis
  • eIF-2 Kinase / metabolism


  • Activating Transcription Factor 6
  • EIF2AK3 protein, human
  • ERN1 protein, human
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • eIF-2 Kinase
  • Endoribonucleases