UBE2O is a quality control factor for orphans of multiprotein complexes

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Science  04 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6350, pp. 472-475
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0178

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Removing orphan proteins from the system

The degradation of excess subunits of protein complexes is a major quality-control problem for the cell. How such “orphans” are recognized and tagged for degradation is poorly understood. Two papers identify a protein quality-control pathway that acts on some of the most abundant protein complexes in the human body: hemoglobin and ribosomes (see the Perspective by Hampton and Dargemont). Yanagitani et al. show that the central player in this process is an unusual enzyme (UBE2O) that recognizes substrates and tags them for destruction. Other quality-contr ol pathways tend to use separate factors for target selection (often a chaperone), ubiquitin donation (an E2), and ubiquitin conjugati on (an E3). Encoding all three activities in a single factor whose function can be reconstituted in a purified system provides a tractable route to detailed mechanistic and structural dissection. Nguyen et al. show the importance of the UBE2O pathway in the differentiation of red blood cells.

Science, this issue p. 472, p. 471; see also p. 450


Many nascent proteins are assembled into multiprotein complexes of defined stoichiometry. Imbalances in the synthesis of individual subunits result in orphans. How orphans are selectively eliminated to maintain protein homeostasis is poorly understood. Here, we found that the conserved ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme UBE2O directly recognized juxtaposed basic and hydrophobic patches on unassembled proteins to mediate ubiquitination without a separate ubiquitin ligase. In reticulocytes, where UBE2O is highly up-regulated, unassembled α-globin molecules that failed to assemble with β-globin were selectively ubiquitinated by UBE2O. In nonreticulocytes, ribosomal proteins that did not engage nuclear import factors were targets for UBE2O. Thus, UBE2O is a self-contained quality control factor that comprises substrate recognition and ubiquitin transfer activities within a single protein to efficiently target orphans of multiprotein complexes for degradation.

  • * Present address: The Thomas N. Sato BioMEC-X Laboratories, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), Hikaridai 2-2-2, Kyoto 619-0288, Japan.

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