Circulating levels of glucocorticoids are increased in many traumatic and muscle-wasting conditions that include insulin-dependent diabetes, acidosis, infection, and starvation. On the basis of indirect findings, it appeared that these catabolic hormones are required to stimulate Ub (ubiquitin)–proteasome-dependent proteolysis in skeletal muscles in such conditions. The present studies were performed to provide conclusive evidence for an activation of Ub-proteasome-dependent proteolysis after glucocorticoid treatment. In atrophying fast-twitch muscles from rats treated with dexamethasone for 6 days, compared with pair-fed controls, we found (i) increased MG132-inhibitable proteasome-dependent proteolysis, (ii) an enhanced rate of substrate ubiquitination, (iii) increased chymotrypsin-like proteasomal activity of the proteasome, and (iv) a co-ordinate increase in the mRNA expression of several ATPase (S4, S6, S7 and S8) and non-ATPase (S1, S5a and S14) subunits of the 19 S regulatory complex, which regulates the peptidase and the proteolytic activities of the 26 S proteasome. These studies provide conclusive evidence that glucocorticoids activate Ub-proteasome-dependent proteolysis and the first in vivo evidence for a hormonal regulation of the expression of subunits of the 19 S complex. The results suggest that adaptations in gene expression of regulatory subunits of the 19 S complex by glucocorticoids are crucial in the regulation of the 26 S muscle proteasome.

Abbreviations used: DTT, dithiothreitol; DX, dexamethasone; PF, pair-fed; Ub, ubiquitin; 14 kDa E2, 14 kDa Ub-conjugating enzyme E2.

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Author notes

1

These authors contributed equally to this work.