The unfolded protein response (UPR) monitors and maintains protein homeostasis in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). In budding yeast, the UPR is a transcriptional regulatory pathway that is quiescent under normal conditions. Under conditions of acute ER stress, activation of UPR targets is essential for cell viability. How individual target genes contribute to stress tolerance is unclear. Uncovering these roles is hampered because most targets also play important functions in the absence of stress. To differentiate stress-specific roles from everyday functions, a single target gene was uncoupled from UPR control by eliminating its UPR-specific regulatory element. Through this approach, the UPR remains intact, aside from its inability to induce the designated target. Applying the strategy to the major ER chaperone Kar2p/BiP revealed the physiological function of increasing its cellular concentration. Despite hundreds of target genes under UPR control, we show that activation of KAR2 is indispensable to alleviate some forms of ER stress. Specifically, activation is essential to dispose misfolded proteins that are otherwise toxic. Surprisingly, induced BiP/Kar2p molecules are dedicated to alleviating stress. The inability to induce KAR2 under stress had no effect on its known housekeeping functions.
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