In autophagy, the autophagosome, a transient organelle specialized for the sequestration and lysosomal or vacuolar transport of cellular constituents, is formed via unique membrane dynamics. This process requires concerted actions of a distinctive set of proteins named Atg (autophagy-related). Atg proteins include two ubiquitin-like proteins, Atg12 and Atg8 [LC3 (light-chain 3) and GABARAP (γ-aminobutyric acid receptor-associated protein) in mammals]. Sequential reactions by the E1 enzyme Atg7 and the E2 enzyme Atg10 conjugate Atg12 to the lysine residue in Atg5, and the resulting Atg12–Atg5 conjugate forms a complex with Atg16. On the other hand, Atg8 is first processed at the C-terminus by Atg4, which is related to ubiquitin-processing/deconjugating enzymes. Atg8 is then activated by Atg7 (shared with Atg12) and, via the E2 enzyme Atg3, finally conjugated to the amino group of the lipid PE (phosphatidylethanolamine). The Atg12–Atg5–Atg16 complex acts as an E3 enzyme for the conjugation reaction of Atg8; it enhances the E2 activity of Atg3 and specifies the site of Atg8–PE production to be autophagy-related membranes. Atg8–PE is suggested to be involved in autophagosome formation at multiple steps, including membrane expansion and closure. Moreover, Atg4 cleaves Atg8–PE to liberate Atg8 from membranes for reuse, and this reaction can also regulate autophagosome formation. Thus these two ubiquitin-like systems are intimately involved in driving the biogenesis of the autophagosomal membrane.

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