A cross-kingdom conserved ER-phagy receptor maintains endoplasmic reticulum homeostasis during stress

Elife. 2020 Aug 27:9:e58396. doi: 10.7554/eLife.58396.


Eukaryotes have evolved various quality control mechanisms to promote proteostasis in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Selective removal of certain ER domains via autophagy (termed as ER-phagy) has emerged as a major quality control mechanism. However, the degree to which ER-phagy is employed by other branches of ER-quality control remains largely elusive. Here, we identify a cytosolic protein, C53, that is specifically recruited to autophagosomes during ER-stress, in both plant and mammalian cells. C53 interacts with ATG8 via a distinct binding epitope, featuring a shuffled ATG8 interacting motif (sAIM). C53 senses proteotoxic stress in the ER lumen by forming a tripartite receptor complex with the ER-associated ufmylation ligase UFL1 and its membrane adaptor DDRGK1. The C53/UFL1/DDRGK1 receptor complex is activated by stalled ribosomes and induces the degradation of internal or passenger proteins in the ER. Consistently, the C53 receptor complex and ufmylation mutants are highly susceptible to ER stress. Thus, C53 forms an ancient quality control pathway that bridges selective autophagy with ribosome-associated quality control in the ER.

Keywords: A. thaliana; UFMylation; cargo receptor; cell biology; er-phagy; er-quality control; human; marchantia polymorpha; plant biology; ribosome stalling; selective autophagy.

Plain language summary

For cells to survive they need to be able to remove faulty or damaged components. The ability to recycle faulty parts is so crucial that some of the molecular machinery responsible is the same across the plant and animal kingdoms. One of the major recycling pathways cells use is autophagy, which labels damaged proteins with molecular tags that say 'eat-me'. Proteins called receptors then recognize these tags and move the faulty component into vesicles that transport the cargo to a specialized compartment that recycles broken parts. Cells make and fold around 40% of their proteins at a site called the endoplasmic reticulum, or ER for short. However, the process of folding and synthesizing proteins is prone to errors. For example, when a cell is under stress this can cause a ‘stall’ in production, creating a build-up of faulty, partially constructed proteins that are toxic to the cell. There are several quality control systems which help recognize and correct these errors in production. Yet, it remained unclear how autophagy and these quality control mechanisms are linked together. Here, Stephani, Picchianti et al. screened for receptors that regulate the recycling of faulty proteins by binding to the ‘eat-me’ tags. This led to the identification of a protein called C53, which is found in both plant and animal cells. Microscopy and protein-protein interaction tests showed that C53 moves into transport vesicles when the ER is under stress and faulty proteins start to build-up. Once there, C53 interacts with two proteins embedded in the wall of the endoplasmic reticulum. These proteins form part of the quality control system that senses stalled protein production, labelling the stuck proteins with ‘eat-me’ tags. Together with C53, they identify and remove half-finished proteins before they can harm the cell. The fact that C53 works in the same way in both plant and human cells suggests that many species might use this receptor to recycle stalled proteins. This has implications for a wide range of research areas, from agriculture to human health. A better understanding of C53 could be beneficial for developing stress-resilient crops. It could also aid research into human diseases, such as cancer and viral infections, that have been linked to C53 and its associated proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Autophagy-Related Protein 8 Family / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress / physiology*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proteostasis / physiology
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Autophagy-Related Protein 8 Family
  • CDK5RAP3 protein, human
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DDRGK1 protein, human
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.wm37pvmkb