The transmembrane α-helices of membrane proteins are in general highly hydrophobic, and they enter the lipid bilayer through a lateral gate in the Sec61 translocon. However, some transmembrane α-helices are less hydrophobic and form membrane channels or substrate-binding pockets. Insertion of these amphipathic transmembrane α-helices into the membrane requires the specific membrane-embedded insertase called the endoplasmic reticulum membrane complex (EMC), which is a multi-subunit chaperone distinct from the GET insertase complex. Four recent cryo-electron microscopy studies on the eukaryotic EMC have revealed their remarkable architectural conservation from yeast to humans; a general consensus on the substrate transmembrane helix-binding pocket; and the evolutionary link to the prokaryotic insertases of the tail-anchored membrane proteins. These structures provide a solid framework for future mechanistic investigation.
Keywords: Cryo-EM; insertase; membrane protein biogenesis; membrane protein folding; structural biology.
© 2021 Federation of European Biochemical Societies.