The modification of proteins with SUMO (small ubiquitin-related modifier) plays an important role in determining their functional properties. Importantly though, SUMOylation is a highly dynamic process enabling transient responses to be elicited. This dynamism is controlled by two competing conjugating and deconjugating activities. The latter activity is mediated by the SENP [SUMO1/sentrin/SMT3 (suppressor of mif two 3 homologue 1)-specific peptidase] family of SUMO-specific proteases. The transcription factor Elk-1 [ETS (E twenty-six)-like 1] undergoes rapid de-SUMOylation following cellular stimulation with growth factors, and this contributes to its conversion from a SUMO-dependent repressor into a potent transcriptional activator. In the present study we demonstrate an important role for SENP1 in the de-SUMOylation of Elk-1, and therefore an integral role in determining the Elk-1-dependent transcriptional programme. Among the SENPs, Elk-1 preferentially forms a complex with SENP1. This preferential binding is reflected by the higher efficiency of SENP1 in promoting Elk-1 transactivation. Moreover, depletion of SENP1 causes a reciprocal effect and reduces the transactivation properties of Elk-1. Partial redundancy of function with SENP2 is revealed by combinatorial knockdown studies. Importantly, depletion of SENP1 also reduces the activation of the Elk-1 target gene c-FOS. Taken together, these results therefore reveal an important role for SENP1 in the regulation of Elk-1-mediated gene expression in response to mitogenic signalling cues
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