After folding, the ER assesses the quality of secretory and membrane proteins. The correctly folded proteins are cleared by the calnexin cycle for transport to their final destination, while misfolded proteins are held back in the ER lumen. The ER chaperones attempt to unfold and refold the misfolded proteins but sometimes fail to achieve the correct native conformation. Such terminally misfolded proteins are then exported to the cytosol by ER-associated degradation or ERAD pathway for degradation.
Different modes of ERAD pathways
Hrd1 is a ubiquitin ligase and a retro-translocation channel for misfolded polypeptides. It complexes with another membrane protein, Hrd3, to form the core ERAD machinery. The other players associated with these core proteins depend upon the topology of the misfolded protein. The retrotranslocation complex depends on the luminal lectin chaperones to identify misfolded proteins. Studies in the yeast system suggest the presence of ERAD-C, ERAD-L, and ERAD-M pathways to export misfolded proteins from various parts of the ER. The target proteins of the ERAD-L and ERAD-M pathways use the Hrd1 channel to exit the ER lumen and membrane, respectively, while the ERAD-C pathway utilizes the Doa10p ubiquitin ligase complex to degrade the cytoplasmic domains of the ER membrane proteins. Sometimes, these pathways can overlap as some misfolded proteins need translocation machinery from two different ERAD pathways to exit the ER. The mammalian ERAD machinery is more complex than yeast and has multiple proteins that export and mark proteins for proteasomal degradation. Eventually, all ERAD pathways converge due to their dependence on a cytoplasmic AAA-ATPase to provide the mechanical force to extract proteins through the membrane.
Degradation of non-glycosylated proteins
The ER has another lectin-independent system that monitors and clears the non-glycosylated proteins from ER. It consists of the resident ER chaperone, BiP protein, and the ER-localized DnaJ family members (ERdjs). ER stress induces the production of HERP, a ubiquitin-like membrane protein, which assembles with other ERAD proteins like the Hrd1 and AAA-ATPase, forming a complex. BiP uses some ERdj proteins as cofactors to recruit non-glycosylated misfolded proteins to the HERP complex for retrotranslocation and ubiquitination of the misfolded protein. HERP is associated with the proteasome on the cytosolic side, where it delivers the misfolded proteins for degradation.
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