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NO signaling and S-nitrosylation regulate PTEN inhibition in neurodegeneration

Young-Don Kwak1, Tao Ma13, Shiyong Diao1, Xue Zhang2, Yaomin Chen2, Janet Hsu2, Stuart A Lipton24, Eliezer Masliah4, Huaxi Xu2 and Francesca-Fang Liao1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmacology, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, College of Medicine, 874 Union Avenue, Memphis TN, 38163, USA

2 Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, 10190 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA

3 Department of Neurology, Wuxi the Second People’s Hospital, Affiliated to Nanjing Medical University, Jiangsu 214002 PR China

4 Department of Neurosciences, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92039, USA

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Molecular Neurodegeneration 2010, 5:49  doi:10.1186/1750-1326-5-49

Published: 10 November 2010



The phosphatase PTEN governs the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt signaling pathway which is arguably the most important pro-survival pathway in neurons. Recently, PTEN has also been implicated in multiple important CNS functions such as neuronal differentiation, plasticity, injury and drug addiction. It has been reported that loss of PTEN protein, accompanied by Akt activation, occurs under excitotoxic conditions (stroke) as well as in Alzheimer's (AD) brains. However the molecular signals and mechanism underlying PTEN loss are unknown.


In this study, we investigated redox regulation of PTEN, namely S-nitrosylation, a covalent modification of cysteine residues by nitric oxide (NO), and H2O2-mediated oxidation. We found that S-nitrosylation of PTEN was markedly elevated in brains in the early stages of AD (MCI). Surprisingly, there was no increase in the H2O2-mediated oxidation of PTEN, a modification common in cancer cell types, in the MCI/AD brains as compared to normal aged control. Using several cultured neuronal models, we further demonstrate that S-nitrosylation, in conjunction with NO-mediated enhanced ubiquitination, regulates both the lipid phosphatase activity and protein stability of PTEN. S-nitrosylation and oxidation occur on overlapping and distinct Cys residues of PTEN. The NO signal induces PTEN protein degradation via the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) through NEDD4-1-mediated ubiquitination.


This study demonstrates for the first time that NO-mediated redox regulation is the mechanism of PTEN protein degradation, which is distinguished from the H2O2-mediated PTEN oxidation, known to only inactivate the enzyme. This novel regulatory mechanism likely accounts for the PTEN loss observed in neurodegeneration such as in AD, in which NO plays a critical pathophysiological role.