The billions of proteins inside a eukaryotic cell are organized among dozens of sub-cellular compartments, within which they are further organized into protein complexes. The maintenance of both levels of organization is crucial for normal cellular function. Newly made proteins that fail to be segregated to the correct compartment or assembled into the appropriate complex are defined as orphans. In this review, we discuss the challenges faced by a cell of minimizing orphaned proteins, the quality control systems that recognize orphans, and the consequences of excess orphans for protein homeostasis and disease.
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