Abstract The Unfolded Protein Response (UPR) is a cascade of intracellular stress signaling from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) that protect the cells from the stress caused by accumulation of unfolded or misfolded proteins in the ER. Activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6) is one of primary UPR transducers that remodels the stressed cells through transcriptional regulation. Although the activation mechanism and biological roles of ATF6 have been well studied, the understanding of the negative or feedback regulation of ATF6 remains elusive. In this report, we showed that ATF6 protein can be modified by small ubiquitin-like modification (SUMOylation) and that the transcriptional activity of ATF6 is negatively regulated by SUMOylation. We identified that SUMOylation of ATF6 is significantly increased in the cells expressing misfolded cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) encoded by the mutant human CFTR gene (dF508CFTR). Further analyses revealed two highly conserved SUMOylation motifs within the trans-activation domain of ATF6 protein of human, mouse, or rat specie. The human ATF6 protein can be SUMOylated mediated through the small ubiquitin-like modifier protein 1 (SUMO-1) and E3 SUMO-protein ligase 1 (PIAS1) at the conserved sumoylation residue Lys149 that is located at the N-terminal of the activated form of ATF6 protein. Bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) analysis confirmed that the activated ATF6 protein can be SUMOylated and that the ATF6 sumoylation occurs in the nuclei. Moreover, trans-activation reporter analysis demonstrated that SUMOylation of the ATF6 protein at the conserved residue Lys149 represses the transcriptional activity of ATF6. In summary, our study revealed a negative regulation of the UPR transducer ATF6 through post-translational SUMOylation. The information from this study will not only increase our understanding of the fine-tuning regulation of the UPR signaling but will also be informative to the modulation of the UPR for therapeutic benefits. Highlights The UPR transducer ATF6 is modified through SUMOylation under ER stress as a feedback regulation. SUMOylation of ATF6 is mediated through SUMO-1 and PIAS1. SUMOylation represses the transcriptional activity of ATF6. Expression of misfolded human cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator leads to ATF6 SUMOylation.
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