Research Article

A glycine-specific N-degron pathway mediates the quality control of protein N-myristoylation

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Science  05 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6448, eaaw4912
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw4912

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Glycine N-degron regulation revealed

For more than 30 years, N-terminal sequences have been known to influence protein stability, but additional features of these N-end rule, or N-degron, pathways continue to be uncovered. Timms et al. used a global protein stability (GPS) technology to take a broader look at these pathways in human cells. Unexpectedly, glycine exposed at the N terminus could act as a potent degron; proteins bearing N-terminal glycine were targeted for proteasomal degradation by two Cullin-RING E3 ubiquitin ligases through the substrate adaptors ZYG11B and ZER1. This pathway may be important, for example, to degrade proteins that fail to localize properly to cellular membranes and to destroy protein fragments generated during cell death.

Science, this issue p. eaaw4912

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

The ubiquitin-proteasome system is the major route through which the cell achieves selective protein degradation. The E3 ubiquitin ligases are the major determinants of specificity in this system, which is thought to be achieved through their selective recognition of specific degron motifs in substrate proteins. However, our ability to identify these degrons and match them to their cognate E3 ligase remains a major challenge.

RATIONALE

It has long been known that the stability of proteins is influenced by their N-terminal residue, and a large body of work over the past three decades has characterized a collection of N-end rule pathways that target proteins for degradation through N-terminal degron motifs. Recently, we developed Global Protein Stability (GPS)–peptidome technology and used it to delineate a suite of degrons that lie at the extreme C terminus of proteins. We adapted this approach to examine the stability of the human N terminome, allowing us to reevaluate our understanding of N-degron pathways in an unbiased manner.

RESULTS

Stability profiling of the human N terminome identified two major findings: an expanded repertoire for UBR family E3 ligases to include substrates that begin with arginine and lysine following an intact initiator methionine and, more notably, that glycine positioned at the extreme N terminus can act as a potent degron. We established human embryonic kidney 293T reporter cell lines in which unstable peptides that bear N-terminal glycine degrons were fused to green fluorescent protein, and we performed CRISPR screens to identify the degradative machinery involved. These screens identified two Cul2 Cullin-RING E3 ligase complexes, defined by the related substrate adaptors ZYG11B and ZER1, that act redundantly to target substrates bearing N-terminal glycine degrons for proteasomal degradation. Moreover, through the saturation mutagenesis of example substrates, we defined the composition of preferred N-terminal glycine degrons specifically recognized by ZYG11B and ZER1.

We found that preferred glycine degrons are depleted from the native N termini of metazoan proteomes, suggesting that proteins have evolved to avoid degradation through this pathway, but are strongly enriched at annotated caspase cleavage sites. Stability profiling of N-terminal peptides lying downstream of all known caspase cleavages sites confirmed that Cul2ZYG11B and Cul2ZER1 could make a substantial contribution to the removal of proteolytic cleavage products during apoptosis. Last, we identified a role for ZYG11B and ZER1 in the quality control of N-myristoylated proteins. N-myristoylation is an important posttranslational modification that occurs exclusively on N-terminal glycine. By profiling the stability of the human N-terminome in the absence of the N-myristoyltransferases NMT1 and NMT2, we found that a failure to undergo N-myristoylation exposes N-terminal glycine degrons that are otherwise obscured. Thus, conditional exposure of glycine degrons to ZYG11B and ZER1 permits the selective proteasomal degradation of aberrant proteins that have escaped N-terminal myristoylation.

CONCLUSION

These data demonstrate that an additional N-degron pathway centered on N-terminal glycine regulates the stability of metazoan proteomes. Cul2ZYG11B- and Cul2ZER1-mediated protein degradation through N-terminal glycine degrons may be particularly important in the clearance of proteolytic fragments generated by caspase cleavage during apoptosis and in the quality control of protein N-myristoylation.

The glycine N-degron pathway.

Stability profiling of the human N-terminome revealed that N-terminal glycine acts as a potent degron. CRISPR screening revealed two Cul2 complexes, defined by the related substrate adaptors ZYG11B and ZER1, that recognize N-terminal glycine degrons. This pathway may be particularly important for the degradation of caspase cleavage products during apoptosis and the removal of proteins that fail to undergo N-myristoylation.

Abstract

The N-terminal residue influences protein stability through N-degron pathways. We used stability profiling of the human N-terminome to uncover multiple additional features of N-degron pathways. In addition to uncovering extended specificities of UBR E3 ligases, we characterized two related Cullin-RING E3 ligase complexes, Cul2ZYG11B and Cul2ZER1, that act redundantly to target N-terminal glycine. N-terminal glycine degrons are depleted at native N-termini but strongly enriched at caspase cleavage sites, suggesting roles for the substrate adaptors ZYG11B and ZER1 in protein degradation during apoptosis. Furthermore, ZYG11B and ZER1 were found to participate in the quality control of N-myristoylated proteins, in which N-terminal glycine degrons are conditionally exposed after a failure of N-myristoylation. Thus, an additional N-degron pathway specific for glycine regulates the stability of metazoan proteomes.

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