ULK1 and ULK2 are less redundant than previously thought: Computational analysis uncovers distinct regulation and functions of these autophagy induction proteins

Amanda Demeter, Mari Carmen Romero-Mulero, Luca Csabai, Márton Ölbei, Padhmanand Sudhakar, Wilfried Haerty, Tamás Korcsmáros

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Macroautophagy, the degradation of cytoplasmic content by lysosomal fusion, is an evolutionary conserved process promoting homeostasis and intracellular defence. Macroautophagy is initiated primarily by a complex containing ULK1 or ULK2 (two paralogs of the yeast Atg1 protein). To understand the differences between ULK1 and ULK2, we compared the human ULK1 and ULK2 proteins and their regulation. Despite the similarity in their enzymatic domain, we found that ULK1 and ULK2 have major differences in their autophagy-related interactors and their post-translational and transcriptional regulators. We identified 18 ULK1-specific and 7 ULK2-specific protein motifs serving as different interaction interfaces. We found that interactors of ULK1 and ULK2 all have different tissue-specific expressions partially contributing to diverse and ULK-specific interaction networks in various tissues. We identified three ULK1-specific and one ULK2-specific transcription factor binding sites, and eight sites shared by the regulatory region of both genes. Importantly, we found that both their post-translational and transcriptional regulators are involved in distinct biological processes—suggesting separate functions for ULK1 and ULK2. Unravelling differences between ULK1 and ULK2 could lead to a better understanding of how ULK-type specific dysregulation affects autophagy and other cellular processes that have been implicated in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10940
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020

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