NCOA4 initiates ferritinophagy by binding GATE16 using two highly avid short linear interaction motifs

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Jun 9:2024.06.09.597909. doi: 10.1101/2024.06.09.597909.


Cells carefully regulate cytosolic iron, which is a vital enzymatic cofactor, yet is toxic in excess. In mammalian cells, surplus iron is sequestered in ferritin cages that, in iron limiting conditions, are degraded through the selective autophagy pathway ferritinophagy to liberate free iron. Prior work identified the ferritinophagy receptor protein NCOA4, which links ferritin and LC3/GABARAP-family member GATE16, effectively tethering ferritin to the autophagic machinery. Here, we elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying this interaction, discovering two short linear motifs in NCOA4 that each bind GATE16 with weak affinity. These binding motifs are highly avid and, in concert, support high-affinity NCOA4•GATE16 complex formation. We further find the minimal NCOA4383-522 fragment bearing these motifs is sufficient for ferritinophagy and that both motifs are necessary for this activity. This work suggests a general mechanism wherein selective autophagy receptors can distinguish between the inactive soluble pools of LC3/GABARAPs and the active membrane-conjugated forms that drive autophagy. Finally, we find that iron decreases NCOA4383-522's affinity for GATE16, providing a plausible mechanism for iron-dependent regulation of ferritinophagy.

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