Nitrosylation of proteins is emerging as a key post-translational modification important in both normal physiology and a wide spectrum of diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases. Physiological levels of nitric oxide (NO) can be neuroprotective, in part at least, by inhibiting caspase activity, but excess NO production leads to activation of cell death signalling cascades involved in many neurodegenerative disorders. Neuronal cell injury and death, which are prominent features of disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s diseases, are often mediated by the caspase family of cysteine proteases. Caspase activity is inhibited by S-nitrosylation and is also regulated by inhibitors of apoptosis such as X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) which associates with active caspases and represses their catalytic activity. XIAP also functions as an E3 ubiquitin ligase, targeting caspases for degradation by the proteasome.
A team of scientists led by Sanford-Burnham researchers have now discovered a new twist in caspase regulation. They showed that S-nitrosylation of XIAP (forming SNO-XIAP) inhibits the protein’s E3 ligase and antiapoptotic activity and also found that XIAP can be transnitrosylated by SNO-caspase but not vice versa. They found significant amounts of SNO-XIAP, but not SNO-caspase, in the brains of individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, suggesting that SNO-XIAP contributes to neuronal injury or death. The team hope that their study, which is published in the journal Molecular Cell, might lead to better biomarkers and earlier diagnosis for neurodegenerative diseases.