The regulation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) protein levels has been an area of keen interest, given its important role in mediating the cellular adaptation and toxic response to several environmental pollutants. The carboxyl terminus of hsc70-interacting protein (CHIP) ubiquitin ligase was previously associated with the regulation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, although the mechanisms were not directly demonstrated. In this study, we established that CHIP could associate with the AhR at cellular levels of these two proteins, suggesting a potential role for CHIP in the regulation of the AhR complex. The analysis of the sucrose-gradient-fractionated in vitro translated AhR complexes revealed that CHIP can mediate hsp90 ubiquitination while cooperating with unidentified factors to promote the ubiquitination of mature unliganded AhR complexes. In addition, the immunophilin-like protein XAP2 was able to partially protect the AhR from CHIP-mediated ubiquitination in vitro. This protection required the direct interaction of the XAP2 with the AhR complex. Surprisingly, CHIP silencing in Hepa-1c1c7 cells by siRNA methods did not reveal the function of CHIP in the AhR complex, because it did not affect well-characterized activities of the AhR nor affect its steady-state protein levels. However, the presence of potential compensatory mechanisms may be confounding this particular observation. Our results suggest a model where the E3 ubiquitin ligase CHIP cooperates with other ubiquitination factors to remodel native AhR-hsp90 complexes and where co-chaperones such as the XAP2 may affect the ability of CHIP to target AhR complexes for ubiquitination.
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