Article | Published:

The mechanism of membrane-associated steps in tail-anchored protein insertion

Nature volume 477, pages 6166 (01 September 2011) | Download Citation


Tail-anchored (TA) membrane proteins destined for the endoplasmic reticulum are chaperoned by cytosolic targeting factors that deliver them to a membrane receptor for insertion. Although a basic framework for TA protein recognition is now emerging, the decisive targeting and membrane insertion steps are not understood. Here we reconstitute the TA protein insertion cycle with purified components, present crystal structures of key complexes between these components and perform mutational analyses based on the structures. We show that a committed targeting complex, formed by a TA protein bound to the chaperone ATPase Get3, is initially recruited to the membrane through an interaction with Get2. Once the targeting complex has been recruited, Get1 interacts with Get3 to drive TA protein release in an ATPase-dependent reaction. After releasing its TA protein cargo, the now-vacant Get3 recycles back to the cytosol concomitant with ATP binding. This work provides a detailed structural and mechanistic framework for the minimal TA protein insertion cycle.

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Data deposits

Atomic coordinates and structure factors for S. cerevisiae Get3 in complex with Get1(21–104) and for 2+-ADP·AlF4 2-bound S. cerevisiae Get3 in complex with Get2(1–38) have been deposited in the Protein Data Bank under accession codes 3ZS8 and 3ZS9, respectively.


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Data were collected at beamline 21-IDG at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), Argonne National Laboratory, and we thank the beamline staff for support. We thank T. Dever for yeast strains, T. Rapoport for the Sec61α antibody, M. Downing for technical assistance, members of the Hegde, Keenan and E. Perozo labs and D. Freymann for advice, and A. Shiau and S. Shao for discussions and comments on the manuscript. Use of the APS, an Office of Science User Facility operated for the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory, was supported by the US DOE under contract no. DE-AC02-06CH11357. This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH (to R.S.H.), the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Postdoctoral Program in Environmental Chemistry (to R.J.K. and E.B.), an Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation Grant (to R.J.K.) and NIH Grant R01 GM086487 (to R.J.K.).

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Author notes

    • Ramanujan S. Hegde

    Present address: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0QH, UK.

    • Malaiyalam Mariappan
    •  & Agnieszka Mateja

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Cell Biology and Metabolism Program, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Room 101, Building 18T, 18 Library Drive, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA

    • Malaiyalam Mariappan
    •  & Ramanujan S. Hegde
  2. Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, The University of Chicago, Gordon Center for Integrative Science, Room W238, 929 East 57th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • Agnieszka Mateja
    • , Malgorzata Dobosz
    • , Elia Bove
    •  & Robert J. Keenan


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A.M., M.D. and E.B. produced, purified and characterized recombinant Get1, Get2 (full length and fragments) and Get3. M.M. and R.S.H. performed the reconstitution experiments, including the substrate release and membrane insertion assays. A.M., M.D. and R.J.K. carried out crystallization and structure determination as well as the interaction analyses. R.S.H. and R.J.K. designed the project. M.M., R.S.H. and R.J.K. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ramanujan S. Hegde or Robert J. Keenan.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-20 with legends, Supplementary Table 1, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Notes and Supplementary References.

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