Eukaryotic cells control the levels of molecular chaperones and folding enzymes in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) by a transcriptional induction process termed the unfolded protein response (UPR). The mammalian UPR is mediated by the cis-acting ER stress response element consisting of 19nt (CCAATN9CCACG), the CCACG part of which is considered to provide specificity. We recently identified the basic leucine zipper (bZIP) protein ATF6 as a mammalian UPR-specific transcription factor; ATF6 is activated by ER stress-induced proteolysis and binds directly to CCACG. Here we report that eukaryotic cells express another bZIP protein closely related to ATF6 in both structure and function. This protein encoded by the G13 (cAMP response element binding protein-related protein) gene is constitutively synthesized as a type II transmembrane glycoprotein anchored in the ER membrane and processed into a soluble form upon ER stress as occurs with ATF6. The proteolytic processing of ATF6 and the G13 gene product is accompanied by their relocation from the ER to the nucleus; their basic regions seem to function as a nuclear localization signal. Overexpression of the soluble form of the G13 product constitutively activates the UPR, whereas overexpression of a mutant lacking the activation domain exhibits a strong dominant-negative effect. Furthermore, the soluble forms of ATF6 and the G13 gene product are unable to bind to several point mutants of the cis-acting ER stress response element in vitro that hardly respond to ER stress in vivo. We thus concluded that the two related bZIP proteins are crucial transcriptional regulators of the mammalian UPR, and propose calling the ATF6 gene product ATF6α and the G13 gene product ATF6β.
These authors contributed equally to this work.