Targeted Degradation of Glucose Transporters Protects against Arsenic Toxicity [Research Article]

The abundance of cell surface glucose transporters must be precisely regulated to ensure optimal growth under constantly changing environmental conditions. We recently conducted a proteomic analysis of the cellular response to trivalent arsenic, a ubiquitous environmental toxin and carcinogen. A surprising finding was that a subset of glucose transporters was among the most downregulated proteins in the cell upon arsenic exposure. Here we show that this downregulation reflects targeted arsenic-dependent degradation of glucose transporters. Degradation occurs in the vacuole and requires the E2 ubiquitin ligase Ubc4, the E3 ubiquitin ligase Rsp5, and K63-linked ubiquitin chains. We used quantitative proteomic approaches to determine the ubiquitinated proteome after arsenic exposure, which helped us to identify the ubiquitination sites within these glucose transporters. A mutant lacking all seven major glucose transporters was highly resistant to arsenic, and expression of a degradation-resistant transporter restored arsenic sensitivity to this strain, suggesting that this pathway represents a protective cellular response. Previous work suggests that glucose transporters are major mediators of arsenic import, providing a potential rationale for this pathway. These results may have implications for the epidemiologic association between arsenic exposure and diabetes.

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