Nonenzymatic assembly of branched polyubiquitin chains for structural and biochemical studies

Emma K. Dixon, Carlos A. Castañeda, Tanuja R. Kashyap, Yan Wang, David Fushman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Polymeric chains of a small protein ubiquitin are involved in regulation of nearly all vital processes in eukaryotic cells. Elucidating the signaling properties of polyubiquitin requires the ability to make these chains in vitro. In recent years, chemical and chemical-biology tools have been developed that produce fully natural isopeptide-linked polyUb chains with no need for linkage-specific ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes. These methods produced unbranched chains (in which no more than one lysine per ubiquitin is conjugated to another ubiquitin). Here we report a nonenzymatic method for the assembly of fully natural isopeptide-linked branched polyubiquitin chains. This method is based on the use of mutually orthogonal removable protecting groups (e.g., Boc- and Alloc-) on lysines combined with an Ag-catalyzed condensation reaction between a C-terminal thioester on one ubiquitin and a specific *-amine on another ubiquitin, and involves genetic incorporation of more than one Lys(Boc) at the desired linkage positions in the ubiquitin sequence. We demonstrate our method by making a fully natural branched tri-ubiquitin containing isopeptide linkages via Lys11 and Lys33, and a 15N-enriched proximal ubiquitin, which enabled monomer-specific structural and dynamical studies by NMR. Furthermore, we assayed disassembly of branched and unbranched tri-ubiquitins as well as control di-ubiquitins by the yeast proteasome-associated deubiquitinase Ubp6. Our results show that Ubp6 can recognize and disassemble a branched polyubiquitin, wherein cleavage preferences for individual linkages are retained. Our spectroscopic and functional data suggest that, at least for the chains studied here, the isopeptide linkages are effectively independent of each other. Together with our method for nonenzymatic assembly of unbranched polyubiquitin, these developments now provide tools for making fully natural polyubiquitin chains of essentially any type of linkage and length.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3421-3429
Number of pages9
JournalBioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 15 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Branched chain
  • Deubiquitination
  • Isopeptide bond
  • Polyubiquitin
  • Ubiquitin
  • Unnatural amino acids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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