Steroid hormone receptors (SHR) belong to a large family of ligand-activated transcription factors that perform their biological functions by enhancing the transcription of specific target genes. The transactivation functions of SHRs are regulated by a specialized group of proteins called coactivators. The SHR coactivators represent a growing class of proteins with various enzymatic activities that serve to modify the chromatin to facilitate the transcription of SHR target genes. The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway enzymes have also been added to the growing list of enzymatic activities that are recruited to the SHR target gene promoters during transcription. One such ubiquitin-proteasome pathway enzyme to be identified and characterized as a SHR coactivator was E6-associated protein (E6-AP). E6-AP is a hect (homologous to E6-associated protein carboxy-terminal domain) domain containing E3 ubiquitin ligase that possesses two independent separable functions; a coactivation function and an ubiquitin-protein ligase activity. Being a component of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, it is postulated that E6-AP may orchestrate the dynamics of steroid hormone receptor-mediated transcription by regulating the degradation of the transcriptional complexes. E6-AP has also been shown to be involved in the regulation of various aspects of reproduction such as prostate and mammary gland development. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that E6-AP expression is down-regulated in breast and prostate tumors and that the expression of E6-AP is inversely associated with that of estrogen and androgen receptors. This review summarizes our current knowledge about the structures, molecular mechanisms, spatiotemporal expression patterns and biological functions of E6-AP.
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