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Evolution of Atg1 function and regulation

Chan, Edmond Y. and Tooze, Sharon A. (2009) Evolution of Atg1 function and regulation. Autophagy, 5 (6). pp. 758-765.

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The serine/threonine kinase Atg1 plays an essential role downstream of TOR for the regulation of autophagy. In yeast, where Atg1 was first identified, a complex regulatory mechanism has been described that includes at least seven other interacting proteins and a phosphorylation-dependent switch. Recent findings confirm that the mammalian Atg1 homologues ULK1 and 2 have autophagy regulatory roles. However, we and others have also demonstrated mechanistic differences with the yeast model and between these two Atg1 family members. Here, we elaborate on our growing understanding of Atg1 function, incorporating findings from yeast, C. elegans, D. melanogaster and mammalian cells. We propose that through evolution, Atg1 proteins have adopted additional cellular functions and regulatory mechanisms, which could involve multiple gene family isoforms working within multifunctional protein complexes. The gene family expansion observed in higher eukaryotes might reflect an increased functional diversity of Atg1 proteins in cell growth, differentiation and survival.