Ribosome stalling leads to recruitment of the ribosome quality control complex (RQC), which targets the partially synthesized polypeptide for proteasomal degradation through the action of the ubiquitin ligase Ltn1p. A second core RQC component, Rqc2p, modifies the nascent polypeptide by adding a carboxyl-terminal alanine and threonine (CAT) tail through a noncanonical elongation reaction. Here we examined the role of CAT-tailing in nascent-chain degradation in budding yeast. We found that Ltn1p efficiently accessed only nascent-chain lysines immediately proximal to the ribosome exit tunnel. For substrates without Ltn1p-accessible lysines, CAT-tailing enabled degradation by exposing lysines sequestered in the ribosome exit tunnel. Thus, CAT-tails do not serve as a degron, but rather provide a fail-safe mechanism that expands the range of RQC-degradable substrates.
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