Distinct regulatory ribosomal ubiquitylation events are reversible and hierarchically organized

Elife. 2020 Feb 3;9:e54023. doi: 10.7554/eLife.54023.


Activation of the integrated stress response (ISR) or the ribosome-associated quality control (RQC) pathway stimulates regulatory ribosomal ubiquitylation (RRub) on distinct 40S ribosomal proteins, yet the cellular role and fate of ubiquitylated proteins remain unclear. We demonstrate that uS10 and uS5 ubiquitylation are dependent upon eS10 or uS3 ubiquitylation, respectively, suggesting that a hierarchical relationship exists among RRub events establishing a ubiquitin code on ribosomes. We show that stress dependent RRub events diminish after initial stimuli and that demodification by deubiquitylating enzymes contributes to reduced RRub levels during stress recovery. Utilizing an optical RQC reporter we identify OTUD3 and USP21 as deubiquitylating enzymes that antagonize ZNF598-mediated 40S ubiquitylation and can limit RQC activation. Critically, cells lacking USP21 or OTUD3 have altered RQC activity and delayed eS10 deubiquitylation indicating a functional role for deubiquitylating enzymes within the RQC pathway.

Keywords: OTUD3; USP21; ZNF598; cell biology; deubiquitylating enzymes; human; ribosome ubiquitylation; ribosome-associated quality control.

Plain Language Summary

Ribosomes are cellular machines that build proteins by latching on and then reading template molecules known as mRNAs. Several ribosomes may be moving along the same piece of mRNA at the same time, each making their own copy of the same protein. Damage to an mRNA or other problems may cause a ribosome to stall, leading to subsequent collisions. A quality control pathway exists to identify stalled ribosomes and fix the ‘traffic jams’. It relies on enzymes that tag halted ribosomes with molecules known as ubiquitin. The cell then removes these ribosomes from the mRNA and destroys the proteins they were making. Afterwards, additional enzymes take off the ubiquitin tags so the cell can recycle the ribosomes. These enzymes are key to signaling the end of the quality control event, yet their identity was still unclear. Garshott et al. used genetic approaches to study traffic jams of ribosomes in mammalian cells. The experiments showed that cells added sets of ubiquitin tags to stalled ribosomes in a specific order. Two enzymes, known as USP21 and OTUD3, could stop this process; this allowed ribosomes to carry on reading mRNA. Further work revealed that the ribosomes in cells that produce higher levels of USP21 and OTUD3 were less likely to stall on mRNA. On the other hand, ribosomes in cells lacking USP1 and OTUD3 retained their ubiquitin tags for longer and were more likely to stall. The findings of Garshott et al. reveal that USP21 and OTUD3 are involved in the quality control pathway which fixes ribosome traffic jams. In mice, problems in this pathway have been linked with neurons dying or being damaged because toxic protein products start to accumulate in cells; this is similar to what happens in human conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Using ubiquitin to target and potentially fix the pathway could therefore open the door to new therapies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • HCT116 Cells
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Ribosomal Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Ribosomal Proteins / metabolism*
  • Ribosomes / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitination


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Ribosomal Proteins
  • ZNF598 protein, human
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins