The androgen receptor (AR) plays a central role in prostate cancer. Development of castration resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) requires androgen-independent activation of AR, which involves its large N-terminal domain (NTD) and entails extensive epigenetic changes depending in part on histone lysine demethylases (KDMs) that interact with AR. The AR-NTD is rich in low-complexity sequences, including a polyQ repeat. Longer polyQ sequences were reported to decrease transcriptional activity and to protect against prostate cancer, although they can lead to muscular atrophy. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these observations are unclear. Using NMR spectroscopy, here we identify weak interactions between the AR-NTD and the KDM4A catalytic domain, and between the AR ligand-binding domain and a central KDM4A region that also contains low-complexity sequences. We also show that the AR-NTD can undergo liquid-liquid phase separation in vitro, with longer polyQ sequences phase separating more readily. Moreover, longer polyQ sequences hinder nuclear localization in the absence of hormone and increase the propensity for formation of AR-containing puncta in the nucleus of cells treated with dihydrotestosterone. These results lead us to hypothesize that polyQ-dependent liquid-liquid phase separation may provide a mechanism to decrease the transcriptional activity of AR, potentially opening new opportunities to design effective therapies against CRPC and muscular atrophy.
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