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J Biol Chem. 2009 Jan 16;284(3):1884-95. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M803641200. Epub 2008 Nov 13.

The substrate recognition domains of the N-end rule pathway.

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  • 1Center for Pharmacogenetics and Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


The N-end rule pathway is a ubiquitin-dependent system where E3 ligases called N-recognins, including UBR1 and UBR2, recognize type-1 (basic) and type-2 (bulky hydrophobic) N-terminal residues as part of N-degrons. We have recently reported an E3 family (termed UBR1 through UBR7) characterized by the 70-residue UBR box, among which UBR1, UBR2, UBR4, and UBR5 were captured during affinity-based proteomics with synthetic degrons. Here we characterized substrate binding specificity and recognition domains of UBR proteins. Pull-down assays with recombinant UBR proteins suggest that 570-kDa UBR4 and 300-kDa UBR5 bind N-degron, whereas UBR3, UBR6, and UBR7 do not. Binding assays with 24 UBR1 deletion mutants and 31 site-directed UBR1 mutations narrow down the degron-binding activity to a 72-residue UBR box-only fragment that recognizes type-1 but not type-2 residues. A surface plasmon resonance assay shows that the UBR box binds to the type-1 substrate Arg-peptide with Kd of approximately 3.4 microm. Downstream from the UBR box, we identify a second substrate recognition domain, termed the N-domain, required for type-2 substrate recognition. The approximately 80-residue N-domain shows structural and functional similarity to 106-residue Escherichia coli ClpS, a bacterial N-recognin. We propose a model where the 70-residue UBR box functions as a common structural element essential for binding to all known destabilizing N-terminal residues, whereas specific residues localized in the UBR box (for type 1) or the N-domain (for type 2) provide substrate selectivity through interaction with the side group of an N-terminal amino acid. Our work provides new insights into substrate recognition in the N-end rule pathway.

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