Reactive sulfur species regulate tRNA methylthiolation and contribute to insulin secretion
Nucleic Acids Research
Reactive sulfur species regulate tRNA methylthiolation and contribute to insulin secretion
Nozomu Takahashi 1 2
Fan-Yan Wei 0 2
Sayaka Watanabe 2
Mayumi Hirayama 1 2
Yuya Ohuchi 6
Atsushi Fujimura 2
Taku Kaitsuka 2
Isao Ishii 5
Tomohiro Sawa 4
Hideki Nakayama 1
Takaaki Akaike 3
Kazuhito Tomizawa 2
0 Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology (PRESTO), Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) , Kawaguchi , Japan
1 Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Faculty of Life Sciences, Kumamoto University , Kumamoto 860-8556 , Japan
2 Department of Molecular Physiology, Faculty of Life Sciences, Kumamoto University , Kumamoto 860-8556 , Japan
3 Department of Environmental Health Sciences and Molecular Toxicology,Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine , Sendai 980-8577 , Japan
4 Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Life Sciences, Kumamoto University , Kumamoto 860-8556 , Japan
5 Department of Health Chemistry, Showa Pharmaceutical University , Tokyo 194-8543 , Japan
6 Dojindo Laboratories , 2025-5 Tabaru Kamimashikigun, Mashikimachi, Kumamoto 861-2202 , Japan
The 2-methylthio (ms2) modification at A37 of tRNAs is critical for accurate decoding, and contributes to metabolic homeostasis in mammals. However, the regulatory mechanism of ms2 modification remains largely unknown. Here, we report that cysteine hydropersulfide (CysSSH), a newly identified reactive sulfur species, is involved in ms2 modification in cells. The suppression of intracellular CysSSH production rapidly reduced ms2 modification, which was rescued by the application of an exogenous CysSSH donor. Using a unique and stable isotope-labeled CysSSH donor, we show that CysSSH was capable of specifically transferring its reactive sulfur atom to the cysteine residues of ms2-modifying enzymes as well as ms2 modification. Furthermore, the suppression of CysSSH production impaired insulin secretion and caused glucose intolerance in both a pancreatic -cell line and mouse model. These results demonstrate that intracellular CysSSH is a novel sulfur source for ms2 modification, and that it contributes to insulin secretion.
tRNAs undergo a wide variety of post-transcriptional
modifications that are essential for accurate and efficient
decoding in all living organisms (1,2). The 2-methylthio
(ms2) modification is an evolutionarily conserved
modification found at position 37 of tRNAs (2). In mammalian
cells, two forms of ms2-modified nucleotide have been
(ms2t6A) and 2-methylthio-N6-isopentenyladenosine
(ms2i6A) (3,4). Cdk5 regulatory subunit associated protein
1-like-1 (CDKAL1) catalyzes the methylthiolation of t6A
to form ms2t6A at A37 of cytosolic tRNALys(UUU) (5). On
the other hand, Cdk5 regulatory subunit-associated protein
1 (CDK5RAP1) catalyzes the methythiolation of i6A to
form ms2i6A at A37 of four mitochondrial tRNAs:
mttRNASer(UCN), mt-tRNATrp, mt-tRNAPhe and mt-tRNATyr
(4). The ms2 modification stabilizes codon–anticodon
binding through a cross-strand interaction that contributes
to accurate decoding (6). Indeed, ms2 deficiency in
cytosolic tRNALys(UUU) impairs proinsulin biosynthesis and
causes the development of type 2 diabetes (5). Similarly,
ms2 deficiency in ms2i6A impairs mitochondrial protein
synthesis and leads to the development of myopathy in
mice and mitochondrial diseases in humans (4).
Given the essential role of ms2 modification in regulating
protein synthesis, the regulatory mechanism of ms2
modification has attracted wide attention. All ms2-modifying
enzymes share similar functional domains: UPF0004,
radical S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) and tRNA-binding
domains (3). The UPF0004 and radical SAM domains form
[4Fe-4S] clusters through conserved Cys residues in each
domain (7). The methyl group in ms2 is apparently derived
from SAM (7), whereas the origin of the sulfur atom in
ms2 has remained unknown for decades. Recently, Forouhar
et al. showed that the UPF0004 domain contained
exogenous sulfide species that might provide the sulfur atom
for ms2 modification using a defined reconstitution system
(8). These findings have shed light on the molecular origin
of sulfur in ms2. However, whether the exogenous sulfide
species also exist in living cells and how these sulfides are
involved in ms2 modification remain largely unexplored.
The ms2 modification requires the conversion of a C–
H bond to C–S bond, which is a challenging reaction (3).
It is thus predicted that reactive sulfur species might be
required to initiate the conversion. Cells contain various
sulfur species including cysteine hydropersulfide (CysSSH)
and hydrogen sulfide (H2S)(9–12). These sulfur species are
mainly produced by cystathionine beta-synthase (CBS) and
cystathionine gamma-lyase (CTH) (12). CysSSH is highly
reactive due to its marked nucleophilicity (12,13). More
importantly, it can readily initiate thiol redox exchange,
leading to protein Cys-polythiolation (12). Given its ability to
transfer sulfur, CysSSH could potentially participate in ms2
modification. In the present study, we investigated the
potential role of the CysSSH in the regulation of ms2
modification in tRNAs and its physiological relevance in vivo.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The oxidized CysSSH donor was chemically synthesized
as described previously (12). Briefly, 10 mM cysteine
hydrochloride was reacted with 10 mM Na2S or Na34SH in
50 ml of 10 mM NaOH solution in the presence of 5% I2 at
room temperature. CysS-S2-SCys and CysS-34S2-SCys were
purified by high pressure (or high performance) liquid
chromatography. Monobromobimane, -Cyano-L-alanine and
Deferoxamine were purchased from Sigma. Predesigned
siRNAs against CBS and CTH (siRNA for CBS: s63475,
siRNA for CTH: CTHHSS102445) were purchased from
Invitrogen and Ambion, respectively. Control siRNA was
purchased from Invitrogen. Methylsulfonyl benzothiazole
(MSBT) and biotinylated -cyano ester (CN-biotin) were
synthesized as described previously (12). DAPI solution
and 3 ,6 -dil(O-thiosalicyl) fluorescein (SSP4) were
purchased from Dojindo, Japan.
Hexadecyltrimethylammonium Bromide (CTAB) was purchased from Tokyo
Chemical Industry, Japan.
Mass spectrometric analysis of ms2 modification
For mass spectrometric analysis of ms2 in HeLa cells, total
RNA was purified by TRIzol reagent. For bacterial RNA,
TOP10 competent cells were transformed with
pET21aCDKAL1 plasmids. A single colony was cultured in LB
medium with constant shaking until the OD600 reached
0.7. Next, 0.5 mM isopropyl -D-1-thiogalactopyranoside
(IPTG, WAKO) was added to the culture, which was then
incubated overnight. Total RNA from the bacteria was
purified using a TRIzol Max Bacterial RNA Isolation Kit
(Invitrogen) following the manufacturer’s instructions. Twenty
micrograms of RNA were digested with 2.5 U of Nuclease
P1 (WAKO) and 0.2 U of bacterial alkaline phosphatase
(Takara) in 5 mM ammonium acetate and 20 mM
HEPESKOH, pH 7.0, for 3 h at 37◦C. The samples were subjected
to mass spectrometry (Agilent 6460). The ms2 modification
was detected by a multiple reaction monitoring (MRM)
method using the positive mode. The MRM parameters for
ms2t6A were as follows: precursor ion: m/z 459.4, product
ion: m/z 326.8, collision energy: 14, Fragmentor 125 V.
Mass spectrometry for examination of polysulfide in cells
Cysteine polysulfide (CysSSH) was detected using
monobromobimane (Invitrogen), as described previously (12).
Monobromobimane efficiently and specifically reacts with
CysSSH to form a CysS-S-bimane adduct. HeLa cells were
grown on a 10-cm dish, washed with phosphate-buffered
saline and directly treated with 200 l of 5 mM
monobromobimane dissolved in methanol. Cells were collected,
sonicated and incubated at 37◦C for 15 min. Insoluble
materials were removed by brief centrifugation at 10 000 × g for
10 min. Supernatants were diluted with distilled water and
subjected to mass spectrometry using the MRM method in
the positive ion mode. The MRM parameters for bimane
adducts were as described previously (12).
Imaging of intracellular polysulfides by SSP4
Endogenous reactive sulfur species including CysSSH were
observed using the sulfane sulfur-specific fluorescent probe
SSP4, as described previously (12) SSP4 is a modified
version of SSP2 that was developed for bioimaging sulfane
sulfurs in living cells (14). HeLa cells were cultured on
35mm glass-bottomed dishes (IWAKI) for polysulfide
imaging. The cells were washed with serum-free Dulbecco’s
modified Eagle’s medium (DMEM), followed by the addition
of 20 M SSP4 in serum-free DMEM containing 500 M
CTAB at 37◦C for 15 min. The cells were then washed twice
with phosphate buffered saline (PBS) and counterstained
with DAPI in PBS at room temperature for 10 min.
Fluorescence was observed using an FV1000 confocal microscope
(OLYMPUS). The average fluorescence was quantified
using the software FLUOVIEW Ver. 4.2 (OLYMPUS).
Polysulfide-specific biotin-labeling assay
HeLa cells transfected with the pCMV-Myc-CDKAL1
plasmid vector were homogenized in lysis buffer (10 mM
Tris-HCl, 1% NP-40 and 150 mM NaCl, pH 7.4) containing
a protease inhibitor cocktail (Roche) and immediately
incubated with 2 mM MSBT at 37◦C for 30 min. Lysates were
subsequently reacted with 4 mM CN-biotin at 37◦C for 30
min. After the insoluble materials were removed by a brief
centrifugation at 10 000 × g for 10 min, the biotin-labeled
proteins were purified using streptavidin Sepharose beads
(GE Healthcare) at 4◦C for 3 h. After an extensive wash with
lysis buffer, the biotin-labeled proteins were eluted by the
addition of SDS sample buffer (50 mM Tris-HCl, 2% SDS,
6% 2-mercaptoethanol, 10% glycerol and 0.005% BPB).
Cypolythiolation of CDKAL1 was detected by Western
blotting using anti-Myc antibody (Wako).
Mass spectrometric analysis of cysteine polysulfides in the
HeLa cells were transfected with the
pCMV-MycCDKAL1 vector for 48 h, followed by treatment with
100 M CysS-S2-SCys or CysS-34S2-SCys for 6 h. The cells
were then homogenized in lysis buffer (10 mM Tris-HCl,
1% NP-40 and 150 mM NaCl, pH 6.8) and immediately
reacted with 1 mM monobromobimane at 37◦C for 15
min. The lysates were incubated with anti-Myc antibody
at 4◦C for 1 h. Myc-CDKAL1 protein was then
precipitated by Dynabeads Protein G (Life Technologies). After
an extensive wash with lysis buffer, the Myc-CDKAL1
proteins captured on the Dynabeads were digested with 0.5
mg/ml pronase (Calbiochem) in sodium phosphate buffer
(pH 6.0) at 37◦C for 2 h. The supernatants were directly
subjected to mass spectrometric analysis for the detection
of CysS-S-bimane adducts, as described above.
Measurement of insulin secretion
The mouse pancreatic beta cell line was seeded in 24-well
plates and treated with 500 M BCA for 24 h. After
incubation, the cells were washed with Krebs–Ringer
bicarbonate buffer (KRB buffer: 115 mM NaCl, 5 mM KCl, 10
mM NaHCO3, 2.5 mM MgCl2, 2.5 mM CaCl2 and 20 mM
HEPES, pH 7.4, 0.1% bovine serum albumin) containing
2.8 mM glucose, followed by incubation in the same buffer
for 1 h at 37◦C. The cells were stimulated with KRB buffer
containing 2.8 mM glucose (low glucose) for 30 min,
followed by stimulation with KRB buffer containing 16.7 mM
glucose (high glucose). The insulin levels in the incubation
buffers were measured using an ELISA kit (Shibayagi)
following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Cth-deficient mice on C57BL6/6J background were
established by Dr. Ishii (15). Animals were housed at 25◦C with
12-h light/12-h dark cycles. High-fat chow (D12451, 45%
kcal% fat) was purchased from Research Diets. All animal
procedures were approved by the Animal Ethics Committee
of Kumamoto University (approval ID: A27-037R1).
HeLa cells established from a human cervical cancer
cell line were cultured in DMEM high-glucose medium
(GIBCO) supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS,
HyClone) at 37◦C and 5% CO2. Two mouse pancreatic
cell lines was established from insulinoma that developed in
transgenic mice expressing the SV40 antigen under the
control of the insulin promoter (16). Male mice at the age of
8 weeks were sacrificed and insulinoma tissues were
handpicked under a microscope. The insulinoma was minced and
cultured in DMEM high-glucose medium (GIBCO)
supplemented with 10% FBS (HyClone) at 37◦C and 5% CO2.
Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of
Total RNA was extracted from the lysates of cultured cells
using TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen) following the
manufacturer’s instructions. The ms2 modification levels were
analyzed using a quantitative PCR-based method as described
previously (17). The levels of ms2-modified tRNALys(UUU)
were normalized to the total tRNALys(UUU) (17). In all
experiments, the ms2 modification levels in control cells are
expressed as 100%. The modification levels in
compoundtreated cells are expressed as levels relative to those in
control cells. The sequences of primers were as follows:
Primers for detecting ms2t6A in human and mouse cells
tRNALys forward primer:
tRNALys reverse primer r1:
tRNALys reverse primer r1:
Gene expression analysis
RNA was extracted from the cells using TRIzol reagent
(Invitrogen) following the manufacturer’s instructions. A
PrimerScript RT Reagent Kit (TAKARA) was used to
generate cDNA. Quantitative real-time PCR was performed
using SYBR Premix Ex Taq (TAKARA). The results were
normalized to beta-2 microglobulin.
For overexpression of the CDKAL1 protein in HeLa cells,
cDNA encoding CDKAL1 was subcloned into the
pCMVMyc vector (Clontech). For the expression of CDKAL1
in E. coli, CDKAL1 was subcloned into the pET21a
vector (Novagen). For the construction of CDKAL1
carrying Cys-to-Ala mutations, Cys 83, Cys 109 and Cys 138
in the UPF0004 domain and Cys 214, Cys 218 and Cys
221 in the radical SAM domain were mutated to Ala
using QuikChange II Site-Directed Mutagenesis Kits (Agilent
Technologies). Plasmids were used to transfect HeLa cells
with Lipofectamine 2000 (Invitrogen).
Measurement of blood glucose and plasma insulin levels
The glucose tolerance test was performed in either male
mice fed normal chow at the age of 6 weeks old or in male
mice fed a high-fat diet for 20 weeks. Briefly, mice were
fasted for 20 h (6:00 pm to 14:00 am), followed by the
intraperitoneal injection of glucose (1 g/kg). The plasma
glucose level was determined by a glucometer (ACCU-CHEK,
Aviva; Roche). Plasma insulin levels were determined using
an ELISA kit (Shibayagi, Tokyo, Japan) following the
All data are presented as the mean ± SEM unless otherwise
indicated. Statistical analyses were performed using Prism
6 Software (GraphPad Software). An unpaired Student’s t
test was used to test the differences between two groups.
Analysis of variance (one-way ANOVA) was used to test the
differences among multiple groups, followed by the
Bonferroni procedure to calculate the P-value between two groups.
A two-tailed P-value of 0.05 was considered significant.
Regulation of endogenous CysSSH by CBS and CTH
CBS and CTH are key enzymes in sulfur biology (Figure
1A). In addition to the classic cysteine biogenesis pathway,
CBS/CTH have recently been implicated in the production
of various sulfur species including CysSSH and H2S (12,
Figure 1A). To investigate the biological source of the
sulfur atom in ms2 modification, we silenced CBS or CTH in
Hela cells using specific siRNAs and examined the levels
of free cysteine and CysSSH (Figure 1B). The siRNAs
successfully downregulated CBS or CTH, but the free cysteine
level was unchanged in the siRNA-treated cells, when
compared with control siRNA-treated cells (Figure 1C). To
examine the endogenous CysSSH level, we applied a sulfane
sulfur-specific fluorescent probe, SSP4, in HeLa cells (12).
The reactive sulfur atom in CysSSH, but not cysteine or
glutathione, is capable of reacting with the SSP4 probe to
release its fluorophore (14). There was a significant decrease
of SSP4 fluorescence in CBS- and CTH-silenced cells, when
compared with control cells (Figure 1D and E). These
results demonstrate that the downregulation of CBS or CTH
selectively reduced the CysSSH level in HeLa cells.
Regulation of ms2 modification by CysSSH in living cells
Next, we investigated whether CysSSH is involved in the
regulation of ms2 modification of tRNAs. CBS and CTH
were silenced by siRNAs, and the levels of ms2 modification
in cytosolic tRNALys(UUU) were examined using
quantitative PCR (17). There was a significant decrease in the ms2
levels in CBS- and CTH-silenced cells, when compared with
control cells (Figure 2A). In addition to the treatment with
the siRNAs, we also chemically downregulated CysSSH
using -cyano-L-alanine (BCA), a classic inhibitor of CTH
(18). BCA markedly reduced the intracellular CysSSH level,
as indicated by the reduction of SSP4 fluorescence (Figure
2B). Accordingly, the ms2 modification was significantly
decreased in BCA-treated cells (Figure 2C). Furthermore,
coapplication of BCA and CBS-targeting siRNA
synergistically reduced the ms2 modification level (Figure 2D).
To further demonstrate that CysSSH is involved in the
regulation of ms2 modification, we aimed to modulate
ms2 modification by supplementing exogenous CysSSH.
We chemically synthesized a CysSSH donor, CysS-S2-SCys.
Upon uptake by cells, CysS-S2-SCys is rapidly broken down
to CysSSH due to the reductive cellular environment.
Indeed, the application of 100 M of the CysSSH donor to
HeLa cells for 1 h resulted in a marked increase of the
intracellular CysSSH level (Supplementary Figure S1,
Vehicle: 3.8 nM, CysSSH: 71 nM). HeLa cells were treated with
specific siRNAs against CBS and CTH, followed by
application of the CysSSH donor (Figure 2E). As expected,
CysSSH donor supplementation successfully reversed the
ms2 modification, which was downregulated by silencing
CBS or CTH (Figure 2F).
Both CBS and CTH are capable of producing H2S, which
is also actively involved in diverse biological activities (19).
Therefore, to investigate the potential contribution of H2S
to ms2 modification, we applied NaHS, a donor of H2S, to
HeLa cells with silencing of CBS or CTH (Figure 2E).
However, NaHS was not able to reverse the ms2 modification
level of tRNALys(UUU) in CBS-silenced or CTH-silenced
cells (Figure 2G). Taken together, these results suggest that
CBS/CTH-mediated CysSSH production is selectively
involved in the regulation of ms2 modification.
Selective chasing of reactive sulfur atom by stable isotope
To clarify which sulfur atom in CysSSH is utilized for
ms2 modification, we synthesized a ‘heavy’ CysSSH donor
(CysS-34S2-SCys), in which reactive sulfur atoms were
selectively and stably labeled with heavy isotope 34S
instead of natural 32S (Figure 3A). The heavy CysSSH
donor markedly and selectively induced the intracellular
CysS34SH level as quickly as 1 h after application
(Supplementary Figure S2A and B). Notably, application of the
CysS34SH donor did not give rise of S34-labeled free cysteine
(Supplementary Figure S2C and D). These results clearly
demonstrate that the CysS34SH donor enables us to
selectively track the mobilization of reactive sulfur atoms by the
differential molecular mass.
We applied the CysS34SH donor to HeLa cells and
examined whether CysS34SH is capable of providing a ‘heavy’
sulfur atom for ms2 modification (Figure 3A). All chemical
species contain a trace of the isotope, and exhibit a fixed
isotopic distribution pattern. Theoretically, the abundance of
naturally occurring m34s2t6A (m/z 461) only accounts for
8.19% of the abundance of ms2t6A (m/z 459). If the heavy
34S of CysS34SH is actively incorporated in the sulfur atom
of ms2t6A, there will be an unnatural increase of the
abundance of m34s2t6A (Figure 3A). However, if ms2
modification utilizes unlabeled sulfur atoms of cysteine, the
abundance of m34s2t6A would remain unchanged (Figure 3A).
This isotopic distribution can be monitored by the ratio
of the abundance of m34s2t6A to the abundance of ms2t6A
(m34s2t6A/ ms2t6A), which thus reflects the incorporation
of the reactive 34S atom. When Hela cells were treated with
100 M of the CysSSH donor, the abundance of m34s2t6A
accounted for 6.49% of the abundance of ms2t6A, which
is close to the theoretical ratio (Figure 3B and C). Upon
treatment with 100 M of the CysS34SH donor, there was
a marked increase of m34s2t6A; the abundance of m34s2t6A
in CysS34SH donor-treated cells accounted for 20.5% of the
abundance of ms2t6A, which is far beyond the natural
distribution (Figure 3B and C). This evidence strongly suggests
that a substantial portion of ms2 modification is likely to be
derived from the reactive sulfur atom of CysSSH.
We examined the efficacy of the CysS34SH donor by
subjecting cells to various conditions. The incorporation of 34S
was dose-dependent, with an optimal concentration of 100
M (Figure 3D). The incorporation of 34S peaked 6 h after
treatment (Figure 3E). The utilization of CysS34SH donor
allowed us to examine the turnover rate of ms2 modification
in vivo. HeLa cells were labeled with the CysS34SH donor
for 6 h, followed by various chasing periods. The 34S in
m34s2t6A decreased slowly and had mostly disappeared at
48 h after treatment (Figure 3F). The slow turnover rate of
ms2-containing tRNA is in agreement with the half-life of
cytosolic tRNAs in vivo (20), and reflects the partial
labeling efficiency by the CysS34SH donor. Taken together, these
results clearly demonstrate that the reactive sulfur atom of
CysSSH is transferred for the ms2 modification of tRNA
under physiological conditions.
Polysulfidation of CDKAL1 in intact cells
A previous study of an in vitro reconstituted bacterial
ms2modifying enzyme, MiaB, revealed the existence of
exogenous sulfur atoms in the enzyme (8). It has been proposed
that the enzyme-conjugating polysulfide might be utilized
for ms2 modification. We speculated that CDKAL1 may
undergo CysSSH-mediated protein polysulfidation, and this
is subsequently utilized for ms2 modification. To
investigate the potential polysulfidation of CDKAL1, we
performed a polysulfide-specific biotin-labeling assay in HeLa
cells (12). This unique method enables the selective
conjugation of biotin to the reactive sulfur residue present in
polysulfide-containing proteins (Figure 4A). The
biotinlabeled protein can be specifically enriched by
streptavidinbeads and subjected to the downstream applications
(Figure 4A). HeLa cells expressing Myc-CDKAL1 were
subjected to the biotin-labeling assay. Subsequently, the
enriched polysulfide-containing proteins were examined by
Western blotting using anti-Myc antibody. As expected,
Myc-CDKAL1 was clearly detected in the
polysulfidecontaining protein fraction (Figure 4B).
The UPF0004 domain of bacterial MiaB protein forms a
cluster [4Fe–4S] and has also been proposed to form a
polysulfide moiety (3,8). Consistent with the bacterial model,
mutation of the Cys residues in the UPF0004 domain of
CDKAL1 completely eliminated its activity
(Supplementary Figure S3). To examine whether the polysulfidation
of CDKAL1 occurred in the UPF0004 domain of intact
cells, CDKAL1 in which the Cys residues were mutated to
Ala was subjected to the polysulfide-specific biotin
labeling assay (Figure 4C). Compared with wild-type CDKAL1,
CDKAL1 carrying Cys-to-Ala mutations in the radical
SAM domain exhibited a slight decrease in
polysulfidation. Intriguingly, the polysulfidation level was markedly
decreased in CDKAL1 carrying Cys-to-Ala mutations in
the UPF0004 domain. Mutations in both the UPF0004 and
radical SAM domains almost eliminated the
polysulfidation from the CDKAL1 protein. These results suggest that
the UPF0004 domain is the major polysulfidation site in
CysSSH-mediated polysulfidation of CDKAL1
To investigate whether the polysulfidation of CDKAL1 is
also mediated by the reactive sulfur atom of CysSSH, we
treated HeLa cells with the CysS34SH donor, and
examined 34S-containing polysulfidation in CDKAL1 (Figure
5A). In analogy with the experiment that aimed to detect
34S incorporation in ms2 modification shown in Figure 3A,
the formation of 34S-containing polysulfide in Cys residues
of CDKAL1 would result in an increased abundance of
CysS34SH, which would lead to a shift in the isotopic
distribution of CysSSH (Figure 5A). HeLa cells expressing
Myc-CDKAL1 were treated with the CysS34SH donor for
1 h. Subsequently, Myc-CDKAL1 was immunoprecipitated
with anti-Myc antibody. The immunoprecipitaed proteins
were digested by pronase and subjected to mass
spectrometry. In control cells treated with the CysSSH donor,
abundance of natural occurring CysS34SH accounted for 1% of
the abundance of CysSSH in Myc-CDKAL1 (Figure 5B).
After application of the CysS34SH donor, the abundance of
CysS34SH accounted for as high as 8% of the abundance
of CysSSH (Figure 5B). In contrast, the CysS34SH donor
did not change the isotopic distribution of cysteine residue
(Cys34SH/CysSH) in CDKAL1 protein (Figure 5C).
Furthermore, we applied the CysS34SH donor to HeLa cells
expressing Myc-CDKAL1 with or without mutations in
the UPF0004 domain, and examined polysulfidation by
mass spectrometry. There was a significant reduction of
34Scontaining polysulfidation in mutant CDKAL1, when
compared with the wild-type (Figure 5D). These results strongly
suggest that CysSSH selectively transferred the reactive
sulfur atom to Cys residues of CDKAL1, and induced
polysulfidation in the UPF0004 domain of CDKAL1.
In addition, we aimed to exclude the possibility that
the [4Fe-4S] clusters might non-specifically transfer
sulfur atoms to cysteine residues of CDKAL1 protein during
sample preparation under oxidized conditions. HeLa cells
were treated with an iron-chelating reagent, deferoxamine,
to degenerate [4Fe-4S] clusters and then subjected to mass
spectrometry. The polysulfidation in the CDKAL1 protein
was not affected by deferoxamine (DFOM)
(Supplementary Figure S4A–D), whereas the reagent significantly
impaired CDKAL1 activity (Supplementary Figure S4A–E).
Taken together, these results suggest that cysteine residues
in UPF0004 of CDKAL1 undergo CysSSH-mediated
polysulfidation and the sulfur of the polysulfidated Cys residues
is ultimately transferred for ms2 modification.
Regulation of ms2 modification and insulin secretion by
CysSSH in pancreatic -cells
CDKAL1-medated ms2 modification regulates insulin
biosynthesis in pancreatic -cells, and has been implicated
in the development of type 2 diabetes (5). Given the
important role of CysSSH in ms2 modification, we aimed to
investigate whether CysSSH contributes to insulin secretion
through the regulation of ms2 modification in pancreatic
cells. We established two pancreatic -cell-derived cell lines
and applied BCA to reduce the intracellular CysSSH
levels. The suppression of CysSSH production by BCA
significantly decreased the ms2 modification level in both
cell lines (Figure 6A and Supplementary Figure S5A). We
treated -cell lines with BCA and then stimulated the cells
with 2.8 mM (low) glucose and 16.7 mM (high) glucose.
BCA significantly decreased glucose-stimulated insulin
secretion in these cells (Figure 6B and Supplementary Figure
Next, we investigated whether or not modulation of
the CysSSH level affects ms2 modification and glucose
metabolism in vivo. Cth-deficient mice developed
normally but exhibited high-fat diet-induced metabolic defects
(15,21). Indeed, when the mice were fed normal chow, the
hepatic CysSSH level in Cth-deficient mice was comparable
with that of wild-type mice (Supplementary Figure S6A).
To accelerate the diabetic phenotype, we fed the mice a
highfat diet for 20 weeks. The hepatic CysSSH level of
Cthdeficient mice was then significantly lower than that of
wildtype mice (Supplementary Figure S6B). Accordingly, there
was a significant reduction of ms2 modification in
pancreatic islets of Cth-deficient mice, when compared with
wildtype mice (Figure 6C). These results suggest that CysSSH is
associated with ms2 modification in vivo.
To examine whether a decrease of ms2 modification
affects insulin secretion, mice were injected with glucose and
the blood insulin level was examined. The Cth-deficient
mice fed a high-fat diet exhibited impaired insulin
secretion, when compared with wild-type mice (Figure 6D). To
examine whether the impairment of insulin secretion was
associated with a decrease of glucose metabolism, the mice
were injected with glucose and the blood glucose levels were
measured. The blood glucose level in Cth-deficient mice
was significantly higher than that in control mice (Figure
6E). Taken together, these results suggest that CysSSH
contributes to ms2 modification and glucose metabolism in vivo.
The present study provides direct evidence that the
intracellular CysSSH is closely involved in the regulation
of ms2 modifications in mammalian tRNAs. Using the
unique CysSSH donor in combination with precision mass
spectrometry-based analytic methods, our results clearly
demonstrate that the reactive sulfur of CysSSH rapidly
initiates protein polysulfidation in ms2-modifying enzymes and
mediates the sulfur insertion of ms2 modification.
Furthermore, the suppression of CysSSH production resulted in a
decreased ms2 level, which ultimately led to the impairment
of insulin secretion in vivo.
The regulatory mechanism of ms2 modification in
mammalian cells has remained largely unknown. In general, all
ms2-modifying enzymes require [4Fe-4S] clusters for their
catalytic activities. Based on studies of biotin synthase, a
[4Fe-4S] cluster-containing thiotransferase, it was
previously assumed that the sulfur atom in ms2 might be derived
from the sacrifice of the sulfur atom from its own [4Fe–4S]
cluster (22). Recently, a structural study of bacterial MiaB
protein questioned this self-sacrifice model, and proposed
that the sulfur atom of ms2 might be derived from an
extra sulfur group conjugated to the enzyme (8). However,
the extra sulfur-regulated ms2 modification could be formed
as a byproduct during the in vitro reconstitution of [4Fe–
4S] clusters. Using chemically defined CysS34SH donors, we
were able to provide direct evidence that the extra sulfur
group of CDKAL1 was indeed formed in intact mammalian
cells, and that the extra sulfur was derived from the reactive
sulfur of CysSSH. In addition, the majority of the
polysulfidation was found in the UPF0004 domain of CDKAL1 that
was also in agreement with a previous prediction (8). Taken
together, these results suggest that CysSSH-mediated
protein polysulfidation is a physiological event that contributes
to ms2 modification.
Sulfur atoms are widely incorporated into tRNAs
during a number of essential modifications, including
2thiouridine, 4-thiouridine and 2-thiocythidine (2). To date,
cysteine has been considered as the only sulfur source for
these modifications (23). In the general model, cysteine
desulfurase captures a sulfur atom from cysteine, and forms
enzyme-bound polysulfide as the first step of the reactions
(24). The activated sulfur atom is ultimately relayed to
tRNAs by various enzymes. In contrast to the general model,
our study showed that ms2 modification and CDKAL1
contained a substantial portion of sulfur atoms, which were
derived from the reactive sulfur atoms of CysSSH, but not
cysteine. These results thus challenge the classical model, and
suggest that there are multiple sulfur sources for tRNA
thiolation, including the reactive CysSSH. The CysSSH probes
and analytic methodologies utilized in this study would
provide unique biochemical tools for studying the molecular
mechanisms of these sulfur transfers in the future.
Oxidative stress impairs insulin secretion and
subsequently induces glucose intolerance. Because CysSSH is
highly susceptible to intracellular reactive oxygen species
(12), excess oxidative stress might downregulate the
CysSSH level, which in turn impairs ms2 modification as
well as insulin secretion. Consistent with this view, the
CysSSH level was markedly impaired in Cth-deficient mice
in a stress-dependent manner. Furthermore, the decrease
of the CysSSH level was associated with a decrease of ms2
modification as well as impaired insulin secretion in
Cthdeficient mice. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that the
highfat-induced oxidative stress might also affect the redox state
of [4Fe–4S] clusters of CDKAL1.
In summary, our results show that the reactive CysSSH
is a novel sulfur source for ms2 modification of tRNA and
CDKAL1 in intact cells and in vivo. Suppression of the
CysSSH level leads to the reduction of ms2 modification and
the impairment of insulin signaling.
Supplementary Data are available at NAR Online.
The authors thank Nobuko Maeda for technical support
during the animal experiments.
Author contributions: N.T. performed all experiments and
wrote the manuscript; Y.O. and T.S. synthesized the
persulfide donors; S.W. performed the animal experiments and
analyzed the data; T.A. provided reagents for
polysulfidespecific biotin-labeling assay; I.I. established and provided
Cth-deficient mice; A.F., T.K. and H.N. contributed to the
discussion; and F.Y.W. and K.T. designed the experiments
and wrote the manuscript.
Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of
Japan; Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)
through its ‘Funding Program for Next Generation
WorldLeading Researchers’; Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research
from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Funding
for open access charge: Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research
from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science
and Technology of Japan.
Conflict of interest statement. None declared.
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