The Delicate Balance Between Secreted Protein Folding and Endoplasmic Reticulum-Associated Degradation in Human Physiology

Christopher J. Guerriero, Jeffrey L. Brodsky


Protein folding is a complex, error-prone process that often results in an irreparable protein by-product. These by-products can be recognized by cellular quality control machineries and targeted for proteasome-dependent degradation. The folding of proteins in the secretory pathway adds another layer to the protein folding “problem,” as the endoplasmic reticulum maintains a unique chemical environment within the cell. In fact, a growing number of diseases are attributed to defects in secretory protein folding, and many of these by-products are targeted for a process known as endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation (ERAD). Since its discovery, research on the mechanisms underlying the ERAD pathway has provided new insights into how ERAD contributes to human health during both normal and diseases states. Links between ERAD and disease are evidenced from the loss of protein function as a result of degradation, chronic cellular stress when ERAD fails to keep up with misfolded protein production, and the ability of some pathogens to coopt the ERAD pathway. The growing number of ERAD substrates has also illuminated the differences in the machineries used to recognize and degrade a vast array of potential clients for this pathway. Despite all that is known about ERAD, many questions remain, and new paradigms will likely emerge. Clearly, the key to successful disease treatment lies within defining the molecular details of the ERAD pathway and in understanding how this conserved pathway selects and degrades an innumerable cast of substrates.

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