AUTACs: Cargo-Specific Degraders Using Selective Autophagy

Mol Cell. 2019 Dec 5;76(5):797-810.e10. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2019.09.009. Epub 2019 Oct 9.


Protein silencing represents an essential tool in biomedical research. Targeted protein degradation (TPD) strategies exemplified by PROTACs are rapidly emerging as modalities in drug discovery. However, the scope of current TPD techniques is limited because many intracellular materials are not substrates of proteasomal clearance. Here, we described a novel targeted-clearance strategy (autophagy-targeting chimera [AUTAC]) that contains a degradation tag (guanine derivatives) and a warhead to provide target specificity. As expected from the substrate scope of autophagy, AUTAC degraded fragmented mitochondria as well as proteins. Mitochondria-targeted AUTAC accelerated both the removal of dysfunctional fragmented mitochondria and the biogenesis of functionally normal mitochondria in patient-derived fibroblast cells. Cytoprotective effects against acute mitochondrial injuries were also seen. Canonical autophagy is viewed as a nonselective bulk decomposition system, and none of the available autophagy-inducing agents exhibit useful cargo selectivity. With its target specificity, AUTAC provides a new modality for research on autophagy-based drugs.

Keywords: AUTAC; Down syndrome; K63-linked polyubiquitin; PROTACs; S-guanylation; autophagy; cargo-specific degrader; drug discovery; mitophagy; targeted protein degradation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Autophagy-Related Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Guanine / chemistry*
  • Guanine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitophagy / physiology
  • Protein Engineering / methods
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein Stability
  • Proteolysis / drug effects*


  • Autophagy-Related Proteins
  • Guanine
  • Protein Kinases
  • PTEN-induced putative kinase