The Journal of biological chemistry

siRNA screening of the kinome identifies ULK1 as a multidomain modulator of autophagy.

PMID 17595159


Autophagy is a vital response to nutrient starvation. Here, we screened a kinase-specific siRNA library using an autophagy assay in human embryonic kidney 293 cells that measures lipidation of the marker protein GFP-LC3 following amino acid starvation. This screen identified ULK1 in addition to other novel candidates that could be confirmed with multiple siRNAs. Knockdown of ULK1, but not the related kinase ULK2, inhibited the autophagic response. Also, ULK1 knockdown inhibited rapamycin-induced autophagy consistent with a role downstream of mTOR. Overexpression of ULK1 inhibited autophagy and this inhibition was independent of its kinase activity. Deletion of the PDZ domain-binding Val-Tyr-Ala motif at the ULK1 C terminus generated a more potent dominant-negative protein. Further deletions revealed that the minimal ULK1 dominant-negative region could be mapped to residues 1-351. Full-length ULK1 localized to cytoplasmic structures, some of which were GFP-LC3-positive, and this localization required the conserved C-terminal domain. In contrast, ULK1-(1-351) was diffuse in the cytoplasm. These experiments reveal at least two domains in ULK1 which likely function via unique sets of effectors to regulate autophagy.