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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Jan 14;111(2):863-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318207111. Epub 2013 Dec 30.

Differential processing of Arabidopsis ubiquitin-like Atg8 autophagy proteins by Atg4 cysteine proteases.

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Department of Plant Biology and the Genome Center, College of Biological Sciences, and Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.


Autophagy is a highly conserved biological process during which double membrane bound autophagosomes carry intracellular cargo material to the vacuole or lysosome for degradation and/or recycling. Autophagosome biogenesis requires Autophagy 4 (Atg4) cysteine protease-mediated processing of ubiquitin-like Atg8 proteins. Unlike single Atg4 and Atg8 genes in yeast, the Arabidopsis genome contains two Atg4 (AtAtg4a and AtAtg4b) and nine Atg8 (AtAtg8a-AtAtg8i) genes. However, we know very little about specificity of different AtAtg4s for processing of different AtAtg8s. Here, we describe a unique bioluminescence resonance energy transfer-based AtAtg8 synthetic substrate to assess AtAtg4 activity in vitro and in vivo. In addition, we developed a unique native gel assay of superhRLUC catalytic activity assay to monitor cleavage of AtAtg8s in vitro. Our results indicate that AtAtg4a is the predominant protease and that it processes AtAtg8a, AtAtg8c, AtAtg8d, and AtAtg8i better than AtAtg4b in vitro. In addition, kinetic analyses indicate that although both AtAtg4s have similar substrate affinity, AtAtg4a is more active than AtAtg4b in vitro. Activity of AtAtg4s is reversibly inhibited in vitro by reactive oxygen species such as H2O2. Our in vivo bioluminescence resonance energy transfer analyses in Arabidopsis transgenic plants indicate that the AtAtg8 synthetic substrate is efficiently processed and this is AtAtg4 dependent. These results indicate that the synthetic AtAtg8 substrate is used efficiently in the biogenesis of autophagosomes in vivo. Transgenic Arabidopsis plants expressing the AtAtg8 synthetic substrate will be a valuable tool to dissect autophagy processes and the role of autophagy during different biological processes in plants.


atg4a4b; autophagic body; monodansylcadaverine; nitrogen starvation

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