Three large protein complexes known as ESCRT I, ESCRT II and ESCRT III drive the progression of ubiquitinated membrane cargo from early endosomes to lysosomes. Several steps in this process critically depend on PtdIns3P, the product of the class III phosphoinositide 3-kinase. Our work has provided insights into the architecture, membrane recruitment and functional interactions of the ESCRT machinery. The fan-shaped ESCRT I core and the trilobal ESCRT II core are essential to forming stable, rigid scaffolds that support additional, flexibly-linked domains, which serve as gripping tools for recognizing elements of the MVB (multivesicular body) pathway: cargo protein, membranes and other MVB proteins. With these additional (non-core) domains, ESCRT I grasps monoubiquitinated membrane proteins and the Vps36 subunit of the downstream ESCRT II complex. The GLUE (GRAM-like, ubiquitin-binding on Eap45) domain extending beyond the core of the ESCRT II complex recognizes PtdIns3P-containing membranes, monoubiquitinated cargo and ESCRT I. The structure of this GLUE domain demonstrates that it has a split PH (pleckstrin homology) domain fold, with a non-typical phosphoinositide-binding pocket. Mutations in the lipid-binding pocket of the ESCRT II GLUE domain cause a strong defect in vacuolar protein sorting in yeast.

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Author notes

1These authors contributed equally to the work.

The Biochemical Society's Annual Symposium, The Cell Biology of Inositol Lipids and Phosphates, was held at the University of Birmingham on 29-31 March 2006.