Direct interaction between STAT3 and EIF2AK2 controls fatty acid-induced autophagy
Gene Expression Regulation
STAT3 Transcription Factor
A chemical screen designed to identify novel inducers of autophagy led to the discovery that signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) inhibitors can potently stimulate the autophagic flux. Although STAT3 is best known as a pro-inflammatory and oncogenic transcription factor, mechanistic analyses revealed that autophagy is regulated by the cytoplasmic, not nuclear, pool of STAT3. Cytoplasmic STAT3 normally interacts with the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2, subunit 1α, 35kDa (EIF2S1/eIF2α) kinase 2/protein kinase, RNA-activated (EIF2AK2/PKR), a sensor of double-stranded RNA. This interaction, which could be recapitulated using recombinant proteins in pull-down experiments, involves the catalytic domain of EIF2AK2 as well as the SH2 domain of STAT3, which can adopt a fold similar to that of EIF2S1. Thus, STAT3 may act as a competitive inhibitor of EIF2AK2. Indeed, pharmacological or genetic inhibition of STAT3 stimulates EIF2AK2-dependent EIF2S1 phosphorylation and autophagy. Conversely, the overexpression of wild-type STAT3 as well as of STAT3 mutants that cannot be phosphorylated by JAK2 or are excluded from the nucleus inhibits autophagy. However, STAT3 mutants that fail to interact with EIF2AK2 are unable to suppress autophagy. Both STAT3-targeting agents (i.e., Stattic, JSI-124 and WP1066) and EIF2AK2 activators (such as the double-strand RNA mimetic polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid) are capable of disrupting the inhibitory interaction between STAT3 and EIF2AK2 in cellula, yet only the latter does so in cell-free systems in vitro. A further screen designed to identify EIF2AK2-dependent autophagy inducers revealed that several fatty acids including palmitate trigger autophagy via a pathway that involves the disruption of the STAT3-EIF2AK2 complex as well as the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase 8/c-Jun N-terminal kinase 1 (MAPK8/JNK1) and EIF2S1. These results reveal an unsuspected crosstalk between cellular metabolism (fatty acids), pro-inflammatory signaling (STAT3), innate immunity (EIF2AK2), and translational control (EIF2S1) that regulates autophagy.