The sterol-sensing domain (SSD) is a conserved motif in membrane proteins responsible for sterol regulation. Mammalian proteins SREBP cleavage-activating protein (SCAP) and HMG-CoA reductase (HMGR) both possess SSDs required for feedback regulation of sterol-related genes and sterol synthetic rate. Although these two SSD proteins clearly sense sterols, the range of signals detected by this eukaryotic motif is not clear. The yeast HMG-CoA reductase isozyme Hmg2, like its mammalian counterpart, undergoes endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated degradation that is subject to feedback control by the sterol pathway. The primary degradation signal for yeast Hmg2 degradation is the 20-carbon isoprene geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate, rather than a sterol. Nevertheless, the Hmg2 protein possesses an SSD, leading us to test its role in feedback control of Hmg2 stability. We mutated highly conserved SSD residues of Hmg2 and evaluated regulated degradation. Our results indicated that the SSD was required for sterol pathway signals to stimulate Hmg2 ER-associated degradation and was employed for detection of both geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate and a secondary oxysterol signal. Our data further indicate that the SSD allows a signal-dependent structural change in Hmg2 that promotes entry into the ER degradation pathway. Thus, the eukaryotic SSD is capable of significant plasticity in signal recognition or response. We propose that the harnessing of cellular quality control pathways to bring about feedback regulation of normal proteins is a unifying theme for the action of all SSDs.
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