Background: The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway of proteolysis controls the abundance of specific regulatory proteins. The SCF complex is a type of ubiquitin-protein ligase (E3) that contributes to this pathway in many biological systems. In yeast and mammals, the SCF complex consists of common components, including Skp1, Cdc53/Cul1, and Rbx1, as well as variable components known as F-box proteins. Whereas only one functional Skp1 gene is present in the human genome, the genome of Caenorhabditis elegans has now been shown to contain at least 21 Skp1-related (skr) genes. The biochemical properties, expression, and function of the C. elegans SKR proteins were examined. Results: Of the 17 SKR proteins examined, eight (SKR-1, -2, -3, -4, -7, -8, -9, and -10) were shown to interact with C. elegans CUL1 by yeast two-hybrid analysis or a coimmunoprecipitation assay in mammalian cells. Furthermore, SKR proteins exhibited diverse binding specificities for C. elegans F-box proteins. The tissue specificity of expression of the CUL1-interacting SKR proteins was also varied. Suppression of skr-1 or skr-2 genes by double-stranded RNA interference resulted in embryonic death, whereas that of skr-7, -8, -9, or -10 was associated with slow growth and morphological abnormalities. Conclusions: The multiple C. elegans SKR proteins exhibit marked differences in their association with Cullins and F-box proteins, in tissue specificity of expression, and in phenotypes associated with functional suppression by RNAi. At least eight of the SKR proteins may, like F-box proteins, act as variable components of the SCF complex in C. elegans.
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