Retro-2 protects cells from ricin toxicity by inhibiting ASNA1-mediated ER targeting and insertion of tail-anchored proteins

Elife. 2019 Nov 1;8:e48434. doi: 10.7554/eLife.48434.


The small molecule Retro-2 prevents ricin toxicity through a poorly-defined mechanism of action (MOA), which involves halting retrograde vesicle transport to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). CRISPRi genetic interaction analysis revealed Retro-2 activity resembles disruption of the transmembrane domain recognition complex (TRC) pathway, which mediates post-translational ER-targeting and insertion of tail-anchored (TA) proteins, including SNAREs required for retrograde transport. Cell-based and in vitro assays show that Retro-2 blocks delivery of newly-synthesized TA-proteins to the ER-targeting factor ASNA1 (TRC40). An ASNA1 point mutant identified using CRISPR-mediated mutagenesis abolishes both the cytoprotective effect of Retro-2 against ricin and its inhibitory effect on ASNA1-mediated ER-targeting. Together, our work explains how Retro-2 prevents retrograde trafficking of toxins by inhibiting TA-protein targeting, describes a general CRISPR strategy for predicting the MOA of small molecules, and paves the way for drugging the TRC pathway to treat broad classes of viruses known to be inhibited by Retro-2.

Keywords: CRISPR; Retro-2; TRC pathway; cell biology; genetics; genomics; human.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenite Transporting ATPases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Arsenite Transporting ATPases / genetics
  • Benzamides / pharmacology*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / drug effects*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Protein Transport
  • Ricin / toxicity*
  • Thiophenes / pharmacology*


  • 2-(((5-methyl-2-thienyl)methylene)amino)-N-phenylbenzamide
  • Benzamides
  • GET3 protein, human
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Thiophenes
  • Ricin
  • Arsenite Transporting ATPases