Signals for sorting of transmembrane proteins to endosomes and lysosomes

Annu Rev Biochem. 2003;72:395-447. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.72.121801.161800. Epub 2003 Mar 6.


Sorting of transmembrane proteins to endosomes and lysosomes is mediated by signals present within the cytosolic domains of the proteins. Most signals consist of short, linear sequences of amino acid residues. Some signals are referred to as tyrosine-based sorting signals and conform to the NPXY or YXXO consensus motifs. Other signals known as dileucine-based signals fit [DE]XXXL[LI] or DXXLL consensus motifs. All of these signals are recognized by components of protein coats peripherally associated with the cytosolic face of membranes. YXXO and [DE]XXXL[LI] signals are recognized with characteristic fine specificity by the adaptor protein (AP) complexes AP-1, AP-2, AP-3, and AP-4, whereas DXXLL signals are recognized by another family of adaptors known as GGAs. Several proteins, including clathrin, AP-2, and Dab2, have been proposed to function as recognition proteins for NPXY signals. YXXO and DXXLL signals bind in an extended conformation to the mu2 subunit of AP-2 and the VHS domain of the GGAs, respectively. Phosphorylation events regulate signal recognition. In addition to peptide motifs, ubiquitination of cytosolic lysine residues also serves as a signal for sorting at various stages of the endosomal-lysosomal system. Conjugated ubiquitin is recognized by UIM, UBA, or UBC domains present within many components of the internalization and lysosomal targeting machinery. This complex array of signals and recognition proteins ensures the dynamic but accurate distribution of transmembrane proteins to different compartments of the endosomal-lysosomal system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Endosomes / metabolism*
  • Golgi Apparatus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Sorting Signals / physiology*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Ubiquitin / chemistry
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • Ubiquitin