The acute response to stress consists of a series of physiological programs to promote survival by generating glucocorticoids and activating stress response genes that increase the synthesis of many chaperone proteins specific to individual organelles. In the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), short-term stress triggers activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) module that either leads to neutralization of the initial stress or adaptation to it; chronic stress favors cell death. UPR induces expression of the transcription factor, C/EBP homology protein (CHOP), and its deletion protects against the lethal consequences of prolonged UPR. Here, we show that stress-induced CHOP expression coincides with increased metabolic activity. During stress, the ER and mitochondria come close to each other, resulting in the formation of a complex consisting of the mitochondrial translocase, translocase of outer mitochondrial membrane 22 (Tom22), steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), and 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (3βHSD2) via its intermembrane space (IMS)-exposed charged unstructured loop region. Stress increased the circulation of phosphates, which elevated pregnenolone synthesis by 2-fold by increasing the stability of 3βHSD2 and its association with the mitochondrion-associated ER membrane (MAM) and mitochondrial proteins. In summary, cytoplasmic CHOP plays a central role in coordinating the interaction of MAM proteins with the outer mitochondrial membrane translocase, Tom22, to activate metabolic activity in the IMS by enhanced phosphate circulation.
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