Autophagy is known to be required for eukaryotic cells to withstand nutrient starvation by mediating the degradation of cellular components to supply substrates for ATP generation thereby helping cells survive until extracellular nutrient availability returns. Autophagy also mediates forms of quality control within cells by engulfing and degrading protein aggregates and damaged mitochondria that mitigates neurodegeneration in mice. Autophagy substrates become encapsulated by a double membrane structure that then fuses with lysosomes to mediate degradation of the cargo. How autophagosomes form and how their substrates are recognized for engulfment remain poorly understood. Although two gene products mutated in Parkinson's disease, PINK1, and Parkin have been found to play a central role in triggering mitophagy in mammals, how the pre-autophagosomal isolation membrane selectively and accurately engulfs damaged mitochondria remains unclear. RABGEF1, an upstream factor of the endosomal Rab GTPase cascade, is recruited to damaged mitochondria via ubiquitin binding downstream of Parkin. RABGEF1 directs the downstream Rab proteins, RAB5 and RAB7A, to damaged mitochondria, whose associations are further regulated by mitochondrial Rab-GAPs. TBC1D15, a mitochondrial Rab GTPase-activating protein (Rab-GAP), governs autophagosome biogenesis and morphology. To constrain autophagosome morphogenesis to that of the cargo, TBC1D15 inhibits Rab7 activity and associates with both the mitochondria through binding Fis1 and the isolation membrane through the interactions with LC3/GABARAP family members. Another TBC family member TBC1D17, also participates in mitophagy and forms homodimers and heterodimers with TBC1D15. These results demonstrate that TBC1D15 and TBC1D17 mediate proper autophagic encapsulation of mitochondria by regulating Rab7 activity at the interface between mitochondria and isolation membranes and that endosomal Rab cycles on damaged mitochondria are crucial regulators of mitophagy.

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