Opposing roles for ATF6α and ATF6β in endoplasmic reticulum stress response gene induction

Donna J. Thuerauf, Lisa Morrison, Christopher C. Glembotski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) transmembrane proteins, ATF6α and ATF6β, are cleaved in response to ER stress, which can be induced by tunicamycin. The resulting N-terminal fragments of both ATF6 isoforms, which have conserved basic leucine-zipper and DNA binding domains but divergent transcriptional activation domains, translocate to the nucleus where they bind to ER stress-response elements (ERSE) in ER stress-response genes (ERSRG), such as GRP78. Although it is known that ATF6α is a potent activator of ERSRGs, the transcriptional potency and functions of ATF6β remain to be explored. Accordingly, N-terminal fragments of each ATF6 isoform (N-ATF6α and N-ATF6β) were overexpressed in HeLa cells and the effects on GRP78 induction were assessed. When expressed at similar levels, N-ATF6α conferred ∼200-fold greater GRP78 promoter activation than N-ATF6β. Because ER stress activates nuclear translocation of both ATFGα and β and because both bind to ERSEs, the effect of co-expressing them on GRP78 induction was assessed. Surprisingly, N-ATF6β inhibited N-ATF6α-mediated GRP78 promoter activation in a dominant-negative manner. Moreover, N-ATF6β inhibited TN-mediated GRP78 promoter activation, which requires endogenous ATF6α. ATF6 isoform-specific small inhibitory RNAs were used to show that, as expected, endogenous ATF6α was required for maximal ERSRG induction; however, endogenous ATF6β moderated ERSRG induction. These results indicate that compared with ATF6α, ATF6β is a very poor activator of ERSRG induction and it represses ATF6α-mediated ERSRG induction. Thus, ATF6β may serve as a transcriptional represser functioning in part to regulate the strength and duration of ATF6α-mediated ERSRG activation during the ER stress response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21078-21084
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 14 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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