Macro-autophagy is the intracellular stress-response pathway by which the cell packages portions of the cytosol for delivery into the lysosome. This ?packaging? is carried out by the de novo formation of a new organelle called the autophagosome that grows and encapsulates cytosolic material for eventual lysosomal degradation. How autophagosomes form, including especially how the membrane coordinates the capture of cytosolic toxins with its own expansion and closure is an area of intense study. One factor implicated in both cargo-capture and autophagosome dynamics is the ubiquitin-like protein, Atg8. During autophagy, Atg8 becomes covalently bound to phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) on the preautophagosomal membrane and remains bound through the maturation process of the autophagosome. Our preliminary results suggest that Atg8-PE can directly deform the membrane perhaps contributing to the unique cup-like morphology of the immature autophagosome. Further, we show that several proteins driving Atg8 recruitment are designed to recognize unique features of the autophagosome including curvature. By combining these low affinity interactions across multiple proteins in a complex, these proteins would achieve dramatic targeting selectivity for only the transient intermediate in the autophagosome growth. Once cargo-capture is complete and the autophagosome closes, curvature- sensitive components are released. Atg8-PE must also eventually be recycled and we describe how the proteases responsible for Atg8-PE release are also sensitive to the membrane structure and composition. Our discoveries are made possible by two important technological advances. First we have developed a variety of in vitro reconstitution approaches to study how Atg8-PE and other autophagy proteins influence membrane deformation and structure. In particular, we have now reconstituted Atg8-PE formation on Giant Unilamellar Vesicles that comprise both a highly tractable membrane manipulation model and also are large enough to support fluorescent-microscopy based interrogation of protein-membrane organization. Second, we can now image autophagosome intermediate structures at super resolution in three dimensions so that we can now visualize both the cup-like intermediate and its eventual resolution following fission. With this proposal, we expect to demonstrate exactly how Atg8-PE proteins coordinate the dual responsibilities of protein-protein interaction supporting cargo encapsulation with the protein- membrane complexes that shape and close the autophagosome.
Pathologies ranging from neurodegeneration to chronic infection have in common the cytoplasmic accumulation of toxins including protein aggregates or whole invading microorganisms. Activation of macroautophagy drives the formation of a new organelle that functions to specifically sequester and eventually destroy these toxins. How this organelle forms, how it closes to complete sequestration and how it delivers its cargo for lysosomal destruction are the major long-term goals of this application.
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