To promote the biochemical reactions of life, cells can compartmentalize molecular interaction partners together within separated non-membrane-bound regions. It is unknown whether this strategy is used to facilitate protein degradation at specific locations within the cell. Leveraging in situ cryo-electron tomography to image the native molecular landscape of the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, we discovered that the cytosolic protein degradation machinery is concentrated within ∼200-nm foci that contact specialized patches of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane away from the ER-Golgi interface. These non-membrane-bound microcompartments exclude ribosomes and consist of a core of densely clustered 26S proteasomes surrounded by a loose cloud of Cdc48. Active proteasomes in the microcompartments directly engage with putative substrate at the ER membrane, a function canonically assigned to Cdc48. Live-cell fluorescence microscopy revealed that the proteasome clusters are dynamic, with frequent assembly and fusion events. We propose that the microcompartments perform ER-associated degradation, colocalizing the degradation machinery at specific ER hot spots to enable efficient protein quality control.
Keywords: ERAD; cdc48; cryo-electron tomography; phase separation; proteasome.
Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.