Quality control of intracellular proteins is essential for cellular homeostasis. Molecular chaperones recognize and contribute to the refolding of misfolded or unfolded proteins, whereas the ubiquitin-proteasome system mediates the degradation of such abnormal proteins. Ubiquitin-protein ligases (E3s) determine the substrate specificity for ubiquitylation and have been classified into HECT and RING-finger families. More recently, however, U-box proteins, which contain a domain (the U box) of about 70 amino acids that is conserved from yeast to humans, have been identified as a new type of E3. The prototype U-box protein, yeast Ufd2, was identified as a ubiquitin chain assembly factor (E4) that cooperates with a ubiquitin-activating enzyme (E1), a ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme (E2), and an E3 to catalyze the formation of a ubiquitin chain on artificial substrates. Yeast Ufd2 is functionally implicated in cell survival under stressful conditions. This review addresses recent progress in characterization of the role of E3 enzymes, especially that of U-box proteins, in quality control of intracellular proteins.
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