The unfolded protein response (UPR) is the cells’ way of maintaining the balance of protein folding in the endoplasmic reticulum, which is the section of the cell designated for folding proteins with specific destinations such as other organelles or to be secreted by the cell. The UPR is activated when unfolded proteins accumulate in the endoplasmic reticulum. This accumulation puts a greater load on the molecules in charge of folding the proteins, and therefore the UPR works to balance this by lowering the number of unfolded proteins present in the cell. This is done in multiple ways, such as lowering the number of proteins that need to be folded; increasing the folding ability of the endoplasmic reticulum and by removing some of the unfolded proteins which take longer to fold. If the UPR is successful at reducing the number of unfolded proteins, the UPR is inactivated and the cells protein folding balance is returned to normal. However, if the UPR is unsuccessful, then this can lead to cell death.
The unfolded protein response is the mechanism by which cells control endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein homeostasis. Under normal conditions, the UPR is not activated; however, under certain stresses, such as hypoxia or altered glycosylation, the UPR can be activated due to an accumulation of unfolded proteins. The activation of the UPR involves three signaling pathways, IRE1, PERK and ATF6, which all play vital roles in returning protein homeostasis to levels seen in non-stressed cells. IRE1 is the best studied of the three pathways, as it is the only pathway present in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This pathway involves spliceosome independent splicing of HAC1 or XBP1 in yeast and mammalians cells, respectively. PERK limits protein synthesis, therefore reducing the number of new proteins requiring folding. ATF6 is translocated and proteolytically cleaved, releasing a NH2 domain fragment which is transported to the nucleus and which affects gene expression. If the UPR is unsuccessful at reducing the load of unfolded proteins in the ER and the UPR signals remain activated, this can lead to programmed cell death.