Sex-differences in proteasome-dependent K48-polyubiquitin signaling in the amygdala are developmentally regulated in rats


Background Sex differences have been observed in several brain regions for the molecular mechanisms involved in baseline (resting) and memory-related processes. The ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) is a major protein degradation pathway in cells. Sex differences have been observed in lysine-48 (K48)-polyubiquitination, the canonical degradation mark of the UPS, both at baseline and during fear memory formation within the amygdala. Here, we investigated when, how, and why these baseline sex differences arise and whether both sexes require the K48-polyubiquitin mark for memory formation in the amygdala.

            We used a combination of molecular, biochemical and proteomic approaches to examine global and protein-specific K48-polyubiquitination and DNA methylation levels at a major ubiquitin coding gene (Uba52) at baseline in the amygdala of male and female rats before and after puberty to determine if sex differences were developmentally regulated. We then used behavioral and genetic approaches to test the necessity of K48-polyubiquitination in the amygdala for fear memory formation.

            We observed developmentally regulated baseline differences in Uba52 methylation and total K48-polyubiquitination, with sexual maturity altering levels specifically in female rats. K48-polyubiquitination at specific proteins changed across development in both male and female rats, but sex differences were present regardless of age. Lastly, we found that genetic inhibition of K48-polyubiquitination in the amygdala of female, but not male, rats impaired fear memory formation.

            These results suggest that K48-polyubiquitination differentially targets proteins in the amygdala in a sex-specific manner regardless of age. However, sexual maturity is important in the developmental regulation of K48-polyubiquitination levels in female rats. Consistent with these data, K48-polyubiquitin signaling in the amygdala is selectively required to form fear memories in female rats. Together, these data indicate that sex-differences in baseline K48-polyubiquitination within the amygdala are developmentally regulated, which could have important implications for better understanding sex-differences in molecular mechanisms involved in processes relevant to anxiety-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Biology of Sex Differences. 2023 Nov 10;14(1):80