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Highly homologous ubiquitin-binding shuttle proteins UBQLN1, UBQLN2 and UBQLN4 differ in both their specific protein quality control functions and their propensities to localize to stress-induced condensates, cellular aggregates and aggresomes. We previously showed that UBQLN2 phase separates in vitro , and that the phase separation propensities of UBQLN2 deletion constructs correlate with their ability to form condensates in cells. Here, we demonstrated that full-length UBQLN1, UBQLN2 and UBQLN4 exhibit distinct phase behaviors in vitro . Strikingly, UBQLN4 phase separates at a much lower saturation concentration than UBQLN1. However, neither UBQLN1 nor UBQLN4 phase separates with a strong temperature dependence, unlike UBQLN2. We determined that the temperature-dependent phase behavior of UBQLN2 stems from its unique proline-rich (Pxx) region, which is absent in the other UBQLNs. We found that the short N-terminal disordered regions of UBQLN1, UBQLN2 and UBQLN4 inhibit UBQLN phase separation via electrostatics interactions. Charge variants of the N-terminal regions exhibit altered phase behaviors. Consistent with the sensitivity of UBQLN phase separation to the composition of the N-terminal regions, epitope tags placed on the N-termini of the UBQLNs tune phase separation. Overall, our in vitro results have important implications for studies of UBQLNs in cells, including the identification of phase separation as a potential mechanism to distinguish the cellular roles of UBQLNs, and the need to apply caution when using epitope tags to prevent experimental artifacts.
1) Full-length UBQLN1, UBQLN2 and UBQLN4 all exhibit LCST phase transitions but to different degrees.
2) The N-terminal region (N-terminal to the UBL) substantially regulates UBQLN phase separation.
3) Removal of the disease-associated proline-rich (Pxx) region in UBQLN2 removes the strong temperature dependence of UBQLN2 phase separation.
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Previously uncharacterized, the N-terminal region of ubiquilins is indispensable for distinct phase separation behavior.