The N(ε)-amino group of lysine residues can be transiently modified by the addition of an acetyl group. Recognized functions of N(ε)-lysine acetylation include regulation of activity, molecular stabilization and conformational assembly of a protein. For more than forty years lysine acetylation was thought to occur only in the cytosol and nucleus. Targets included cytoskeletal-associated proteins as well as transcription factors, histone proteins and proteins involved in DNA recombination and repair. However, in 2007 we reported that a type I membrane protein involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease was transiently acetylated on the ε amino group of seven lysine residues while transiting along the secretory pathway. Surprisingly, the acetylation occurred in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) forcing us to reconsider old paradigms. Indeed, if lysine acetylation can occur in the lumen of the ER, then all the essential biochemical elements of the reaction must be available in the lumen of the organelle. Follow-up studies revealed the existence of ER-based acetyl-CoA:lysine acetyltransferases as well as a membrane transporter that translocates acetyl-CoA from the cytosol into the ER lumen. Large-scale proteomics showed that the list of substrates of the ER-based acetylation machinery includes both transiting and resident proteins. Finally, genetic studies revealed that this machinery is tightly linked to human diseases. Here, we describe these exciting findings as well as recent biochemical and cellular advances, and discuss possible impact on both human physiology and pathology.
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