Activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) promotes skeletal muscle atrophy by forming a heterodimer with the transcriptional regulator C/EBPβ

Scott M. Ebert, Steven A. Bullard, Nathan Basisty, George R. Marcotte, Zachary P. Skopec, Jason M. Dierdorff, Asma Al-Zougbi, Kristin C. Tomcheck, Austin D. DeLau, Jacob A. Rathmacher, Sue C. Bodine, Birgit Schilling, Christopher M. Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Skeletal muscle atrophy is a highly-prevalent and debilitating condition that remains poorly understood at the molecular level. Previous work found that aging, fasting, and immobilization promote skeletal muscle atrophy via expression of activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) in skeletal muscle fibers. However, the direct biochemical mechanism by which ATF4 promotes muscle atrophy is unknown. ATF4 is a member of the basic leucine zipper transcription factor (bZIP) superfamily. Because bZIP transcription factors are obligate dimers, and because ATF4 is unable to form highly-stable homodimers, we hypothesized that ATF4 may promote muscle atrophy by forming a heterodimer with another bZIP family member. To test this hypothesis, we biochemically isolated skeletal muscle proteins that associate with the dimerization- and DNA-binding domain of ATF4 (the bZIP domain) in mouse skeletal muscle fibers in vivo. Interestingly, we found that ATF4 forms at least five distinct heterodimeric bZIP transcription factors in skeletal muscle fibers. Furthermore, one of these heterodimers, composed of ATF4 and CCAAT enhancer-binding protein β (C/EBPβ), mediates muscle atrophy. Within skeletal muscle fibers, the ATF4-C/EBPβ heterodimer interacts with a previously unrecognized and evolutionarily conserved ATF-C/EBP composite site in exon 4 of the Gadd45α gene. This three-way interaction between ATF4, C/EBPβ, and the ATF-C/EBP composite site activates the Gadd45a gene, which encodes a critical mediator of muscle atrophy. Together, these results identify a biochemical mechanism by which ATF4 induces skeletal muscle atrophy, providing molecular-level insights into the etiology of skeletal muscle atrophy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2787-2803
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Feb 28 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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