Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Multiple autophosphorylations significantly enhance the endoribonuclease activity of human inositol requiring enzyme 1α

Daniel Itzhak12, Michael Bright12, Peter McAndrew1, Amin Mirza1, Yvette Newbatt1, Jade Strover1, Marcella Widya3, Andrew Thompson3, Gareth Morgan1, Ian Collins2 and Faith Davies12*

Author Affiliations

1 From the Division of Cancer Therapeutics, Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5NG, UK

2 Division of Molecular Pathology, Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5NG, UK

3 Proteomics Core Facility, Institute of Cancer Research, London SW3 6JB, UK

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BMC Biochemistry 2014, 15:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-15-3

Published: 13 February 2014



Endoplasmic reticulum stress, caused by the presence of misfolded proteins, activates the stress sensor inositol-requiring enzyme 1α (IRE1α). The resulting increase in IRE1α RNase activity causes sequence-specific cleavage of X-box binding protein 1 (XBP1) mRNA, resulting in upregulation of the unfolded protein response and cellular adaptation to stress. The precise mechanism of human IRE1α activation is currently unclear. The role of IRE1α kinase activity is disputed, as results from the generation of various kinase-inactivating mutations in either yeast or human cells are discordant. Kinase activity can also be made redundant by small molecules which bind the ATP binding site. We set out to uncover a role for IRE1α kinase activity using wild-type cytosolic protein constructs.


We show that concentration-dependent oligomerisation is sufficient to cause IRE1α cytosolic domain RNase activity in vitro. We demonstrate a role for the kinase activity by showing that autophosphorylation enhances RNase activity. Inclusion of the IRE1α linker domain in protein constructs allows hyperphosphorylation and further enhancement of RNase activity, highlighting the importance of kinase activity. We show that IRE1α phosphorylation status correlates with an increased propensity to form oligomeric complexes and that forced dimerisation causes great enhancement in RNase activity. In addition we demonstrate that even when IRE1α is forced to dimerise, by a GST-tag, phospho-enhancement of activity is still observed.


Taken together these experiments support the hypothesis that phosphorylation is important in modulating IRE1α RNase activity which is achieved by increasing the propensity of IRE1α to dimerise. This work supports the development of IRE1α kinase inhibitors for use in the treatment of secretory cancers.

Endoplasmic reticulum stress; Enzyme mechanisms; ER stress; Mass spectrometry (MS); Multiple myeloma; Ribonuclease; Unfolded protein response; IRE1; Autophosphorylation