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Trends Biochem Sci. 2005 Jun;30(6):297-303.

A window of opportunity: timing protein degradation by trimming of sugars and ubiquitins.

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  • 1Department of Cell Research and Immunology, George Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.


Of the many post-translational modifications of proteins, ubiquitination and N-glycosylation stand out because they are polymeric additions. In contrast to single-unit modifications, the fate of the modified protein is determined by the dynamic equilibrium of polymerization versus depolymerization, rather than by the initial addition itself. Notably, it is the trimming of sugar chains and elongation of polyubiquitin that target the protein to degradation. Recent research suggests that, for each process, special receptors recognize chains that reach an appropriate length and commit the conjugated substrate for proteasomal disposal. We propose that the 'magic numbers' are loss of at least three mannose residues from the initial chain, or extension to at least four ubiquitins. Although these processes are compartmentalized to either side of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane, some proteins are sequentially subjected to both because they transverse this membrane for ER-associated degradation.

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