Phosphorylation of human TFAM in mitochondria impairs DNA binding and promotes degradation by the AAA+ Lon protease.

Molecular cell

PubMedID: 23201127

Lu B, Lee J, Nie X, Li M, Morozov YI, Venkatesh S, Bogenhagen DF, Temiakov D, Suzuki CK. Phosphorylation of human TFAM in mitochondria impairs DNA binding and promotes degradation by the AAA+ Lon protease. Mol Cell. 2013;49(1):121-32.
Human mitochondrial transcription factor A (TFAM) is a high-mobility group (HMG) protein at the nexus of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication, transcription, and inheritance. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying its posttranslational regulation. Here, we demonstrate that TFAM is phosphorylated within its HMG box 1 (HMG1) by cAMP-dependent protein kinase in mitochondria. HMG1 phosphorylation impairs the ability of TFAM to bind DNA and to activate transcription. We show that only DNA-free TFAM is degraded by the Lon protease, which is inhibited by the anticancer drug bortezomib. In cells with normal mtDNA levels, HMG1-phosphorylated TFAM is degraded by Lon. However, in cells with severe mtDNA deficits, nonphosphorylated TFAM is also degraded, as it is DNA free. Depleting Lon in these cells increases levels of TFAM and upregulates mtDNA content, albeit transiently. Phosphorylation and proteolysis thus provide mechanisms for rapid fine-tuning of TFAM function and abundance in mitochondria, which are crucial for maintaining and expressing mtDNA.