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The small molecule Retro-2 prevents ricin toxicity through a poorly-defined mechanism of action (MOA), which involves halting retrograde vesicle transport to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). CRISPRi genetic interaction analysis revealed Retro-2 activity resembles disruption of the transmembrane domain recognition complex (TRC) pathway, which mediates post-translational ER-targeting and insertion of tail-anchored (TA) proteins, including SNAREs required for retrograde transport. Cell-based and in vitro assays show that Retro-2 blocks delivery of newly-synthesized TA-proteins to the ER-targeting factor ASNA1 (TRC40). An ASNA1 point mutant identified using CRISPR-mediated mutagenesis abolishes both the cytoprotective effect of Retro-2 against ricin and its inhibitory effect on ASNA1-mediated ER-targeting. Together, our work explains how Retro-2 prevents retrograde trafficking of toxins by inhibiting TA-protein targeting, describes a general CRISPR strategy for predicting the MOA of small molecules, and paves the way for drugging the TRC pathway to treat broad classes of viruses known to be inhibited by Retro-2. © 2019, Morgens et al.


David W Morgens, Charlene Chan, Andrew J Kane, Nicholas R Weir, Amy Li, Michael M Dubreuil, C Kimberly Tsui, Gaelen T Hess, Adam Lavertu, Kyuho Han, Nicole Polyakov, Jing Zhou, Emma L Handy, Philip Alabi, Amanda Dombroski, David Yao, Russ B Altman, Jason K Sello, Vladimir Denic, Michael C Bassik. Retro-2 protects cells from ricin toxicity by inhibiting ASNA1-mediated ER targeting and insertion of tail-anchored proteins. eLife. 2019 Nov 01;8

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PMID: 31674906

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