Thalidomide causes teratogenic effects by inducing protein degradation via cereblon (CRBN)-containing ubiquitin ligase and modification of its substrate specificity. Human P450 cytochromes convert thalidomide into two monohydroxylated metabolites that are considered to contribute to thalidomide effects, through mechanisms that remain unclear. Here, we report that promyelocytic leukaemia zinc finger (PLZF)/ZBTB16 is a CRBN target protein whose degradation is involved in thalidomide- and 5-hydroxythalidomide-induced teratogenicity. Using a human transcription factor protein array produced in a wheat cell-free protein synthesis system, PLZF was identified as a thalidomide-dependent CRBN substrate. PLZF is degraded by the ubiquitin ligase CRL4CRBN in complex with thalidomide, its derivatives or 5-hydroxythalidomide in a manner dependent on the conserved first and third zinc finger domains of PLZF. Surprisingly, thalidomide and 5-hydroxythalidomide confer distinctly different substrate specificities to mouse and chicken CRBN, and both compounds cause teratogenic phenotypes in chicken embryos. Consistently, knockdown of Plzf induces short bone formation in chicken limbs. Most importantly, degradation of PLZF protein, but not of the known thalidomide-dependent CRBN substrate SALL4, was induced by thalidomide or 5-hydroxythalidomide treatment in chicken embryos. Furthermore, PLZF overexpression partially rescued the thalidomide-induced phenotypes. Our findings implicate PLZF as an important thalidomide-induced CRBN neosubstrate involved in thalidomide teratogenicity.
Keywords: CRBN; protein degradation; thalidomide metabolite; thalidomide teratogenicity; ubiquitin.
© 2021 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY NC ND 4.0 license.