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Evolution from covalent conjugation to non-covalent interaction in the ubiquitin-like ATG12 system.

Yu Pang, Hayashi Yamamoto, Hirokazu Sakamoto, Masahide Oku, Joe Kimanthi Mutungi, Mayurbhai Himatbhai Sahani, Yoshitaka Kurikawa, Kiyoshi Kita, Nobuo N. Noda, Yasuyoshi Sakai, Honglin Jia& Noboru Mizushima 

Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2019 Mar 25. doi: 10.1038/s41594-019-0204-3. [Epub ahead of print]



Ubiquitin or ubiquitin-like proteins can be covalently conjugated to multiple proteins that do not necessarily have binding interfaces. Here, we show that an evolutionary transition from covalent conjugation to non-covalent interaction has occurred in the ubiquitin-like autophagy-related 12 (ATG12) conjugation system. ATG12 is covalently conjugated to its sole substrate, ATG5, by a ubiquitylation-like mechanism. However, the apicomplexan parasites Plasmodium and Toxoplasma and some yeast species such as Komagataella phaffii (previously Pichia pastoris) lack the E2-like enzyme ATG10 and the most carboxy (C)-terminal glycine of ATG12, both of which are required for covalent linkage. Instead, ATG12 in these organisms forms a non-covalent complex with ATG5. This non-covalent ATG12-ATG5 complex retains the ability to facilitate ATG8-phosphatidylethanolamine conjugation. These results suggest that ubiquitin-like covalent conjugation can evolve to a simpler non-covalent interaction, most probably when the system has a limited number of targets.

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