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Endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated degradation (ERAD) of unassembled T-cell receptor alpha-chain (TCRalpha) is reliant on the presence of two basic residues in the transmembrane (TM) segment of TCRalpha. The precise role of these residues in ER quality control is unclear. Here, we show that a TCRalpha mutant lacking these intramembrane charged residues has a tendency to form homooligomers through an interchain disulfide bond that involves a specific pair of cysteine residues. Covalent oligomerization of TCRalpha appears to stabilize it at the ER membrane. The presence of a single lysine residue at specific positions within the TCRalpha TM domain abolishes its oligomerization and causes its rapid degradation. Conversely, when TCRalpha oligomerization is induced by a bivalent compound, the degradation of TCRalpha is inhibited. Together, these results suggest that the intramembrane charged residues in TCRalpha do not function as a signal for substrate recognition in ERAD. Instead, their primary role is to reduce TCRalpha oligomerization, maintaining it in a retrotranslocation-competent state. Our results also suggest that the ERAD machinery is inefficient when coping with oligomerized substrates, indicating a requirement for chaperone-mediated protein disassembly in the ER lumen prior to retrotranslocation.


Nia Soetandyo, Qiuyan Wang, Yihong Ye, Lianyun Li. Role of intramembrane charged residues in the quality control of unassembled T-cell receptor alpha-chains at the endoplasmic reticulum. Journal of cell science. 2010 Apr 1;123(Pt 7):1031-8

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PMID: 20332119

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