FtsH degrades dihydrofolate reductase by recognizing a partially folded species

Protein Sci. 2022 Sep;31(9):e4410. doi: 10.1002/pro.4410.


AAA+ proteolytic machines play essential roles in maintaining and rebalancing the cellular proteome in response to stress, developmental cues, and environmental changes. Of the five AAA+ proteases in Escherichia coli, FtsH is unique in its attachment to the inner membrane and its function in degrading both membrane and cytosolic proteins. E. coli dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) is a stable and biophysically well-characterized protein, which a previous study found resisted FtsH degradation despite the presence of an ssrA degron. By contrast, we find that FtsH degrades DHFR fused to a long peptide linker and ssrA tag. Surprisingly, we also find that FtsH degrades DHFR with shorter linkers and ssrA tag, and without any linker or tag. Thus, FtsH must be able to recognize a sequence element or elements within DHFR. We find that FtsH degradation of DHFR is noncanonical in the sense that it does not rely upon recognition of an unstructured polypeptide at or near the N-terminus or C-terminus of the substrate. Results using peptide-array experiments, mutant DHFR proteins, and fusion proteins suggest that FtsH recognizes an internal sequence in a species of DHFR that is partially unfolded. Overall, our findings provide insight into substrate recognition by FtsH and indicate that its degradation capacity is broader than previously reported.

Keywords: AAA+ protease; degron; folding intermediate; membrane-bound protease; protein degradation; protein stability.

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Dependent Proteases / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli Proteins* / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase / metabolism


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase
  • Membrane Proteins
  • ATP-Dependent Proteases
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • FtsH protein, E coli