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ATG4 family proteins drive phagophore growth independently of the LC3/GABARAP lipidation system.

Mol Cell. 2021 Mar 25:S1097-2765(21)00169-6. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.03.001. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33773106.

Authors/Editors: Nguyen TN, Padman BS, Zellner S, Khuu G, Uoselis L, Lam WK, Skulsuppaisarn M, Lindblom RSJ, Watts EM, Behrends C, Lazarou M.
Publication Date: 2021


The sequestration of damaged mitochondria within double-membrane structures termed autophagosomes is a key step of PINK1/Parkin mitophagy. The Atg4 family of proteases are thought to regulate autophagosome formation exclusively by processing the ubiquitin-like Atg8 family (LC3/GABARAPs). We make the unexpected discovery that human Atg4s can directly promote autophagosome formation independently of their protease activity and of Atg8 family processing. High resolution structures of phagophores generated with artificial intelligence-directed 3D electron microscopy reveal a role for the Atg4 family in promoting phagophore-ER contacts during the lipid-transfer phase of autophagosome formation. Atg4 proximity interaction networks stimulated by PINK1/Parkin mitophagy are consistent with roles for Atg4s in protein/vesicle transport and lipid modification. We also show that Atg8 removal during autophagosome maturation does not depend on Atg4 de-lipidation activity as previously thought. Instead, we find that Atg4s can disassemble Atg8-protein conjugates, revealing a role for Atg4s as deubiquitinating-like enzymes. These findings establish non-canonical roles of the Atg4 family beyond the Atg8 lipidation axis and provide an AI driven framework for high-throughput 3D electron microscopy.

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