Most eukaryotic multipass membrane proteins are inserted into the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum. Their transmembrane domains (TMDs) are thought to be inserted co-translationally as they emerge from a membrane-bound ribosome. Here we find that TMDs near the carboxyl terminus of mammalian multipass proteins are inserted post-translationally by the endoplasmic reticulum membrane protein complex (EMC). Site-specific crosslinking shows that the EMC's cytosol-facing hydrophilic vestibule is adjacent to a pre-translocated C-terminal tail. EMC-mediated insertion is mostly agnostic to TMD hydrophobicity, favored for short uncharged C-tails and stimulated by a preceding unassembled TMD bundle. Thus, multipass membrane proteins can be released by the ribosome-translocon complex in an incompletely inserted state, requiring a separate EMC-mediated post-translational insertion step to rectify their topology, complete biogenesis and evade quality control. This sequential co-translational and post-translational mechanism may apply to ~250 diverse multipass proteins, including subunits of the pentameric ion channel family that are crucial for neurotransmission.
© 2023. The Author(s).