Autophagosome formation and cargo sequestration in the absence of LC3/GABARAPs.

PMID 28165849


It has been widely assumed that Atg8 family LC3/GABARAP proteins are essential for the formation of autophagosomes during macroautophagy/autophagy, and the sequestration of cargo during selective autophagy. However, there is little direct evidence on the functional contribution of these proteins to autophagosome biogenesis in mammalian cells. To dissect the functions of LC3/GABARAPs during starvation-induced autophagy and PINK1-PARK2/Parkin-dependent mitophagy, we used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to generate knockouts of the LC3 and GABARAP subfamilies, and all 6 Atg8 family proteins in HeLa cells. Unexpectedly, the absence of all LC3/GABARAPs did not prevent the formation of sealed autophagosomes, or selective engulfment of mitochondria during PINK1-PARK2-dependent mitophagy. Despite not being essential for autophagosome formation, the loss of LC3/GABARAPs affected both autophagosome size, and the efficiency at which they are formed. However, the critical autophagy defect in cells lacking LC3/GABARAPs was failure to drive autophagosome-lysosome fusion. Relative to the LC3 subfamily, GABARAPs were found to play a prominent role in autophagosome-lysosome fusion and recruitment of the adaptor protein PLEKHM1. Our work clarifies the essential contribution of Atg8 family proteins to autophagy in promoting autolysosome formation, and reveals the GABARAP subfamily as a key driver of starvation-induced autophagy and PINK1-PARK2-dependent mitophagy. Since LC3/GABARAPs are not essential for mitochondrial cargo sequestration, we propose an additional mechanism of selective autophagy. The model highlights the importance of ubiquitin signals and autophagy receptors for PINK-PARK2-mediated selectivity rather than Atg8 family-LIR-mediated interactions.