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Title: Examining the mechanistic regulation of starvation-induced autophagy via the identification and characterisation of novel ULK kinase substrates
Author: Mercer, Thomas John
ISNI:       0000 0004 8508 285X
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2020
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Autophagy involves the formation of an endoplasmic reticulum-derived membrane termed a phagophore which expands to engulf cytoplasmic cargo before sealing to form an autophagosome. Amino acid starvation is amongst the most potent autophagic stimuli, however whilst the key signalling complexes involved in starvation-induced autophagy are known, the precise regulatory mechanisms remain poorly understood. The serine/threonine kinase ULK1 and close homolog ULK2 assume the most upstream position in the autophagic signalling cascade and play a crucial yet enigmatic role in coordinating the autophagic machinery. To further understand the mechanisms of starvation-induced autophagy, I performed a number of unbiased phosphoproteomic screens to identify ULK substrates before classifying their roles in starvation-induced autophagy. Analysis of these datasets has revealed that loss of ULK results in significant changes to the phosphoproteome and has yielded a high confidence list of potential substrates whilst also offering interesting insights into the veracity of the published ULK consensus signature. Amongst the novel phosphorylation targets are components of the retromer and AMPK complexes along with multiple components of the class III PI3K VPS34 complex. The pseudokinase p150, scaffolding component of the VPS34 complex, is phosphorylated by ULK1 in vitro and in vivo at serine 861. CRISPR-based knockout of p150 results in inhibition of autophagy and endosomal trafficking, whilst mutating the phosphorylated residue in p150 alters both omegasome establishment and autophagic flux. Furthermore, incorporation of phosphomutant p150 into the VPS34 complex modulates its lipid kinase activity in vitro. These data identify a novel ULK-dependent signalling axis and help illuminate the complexities of signal transduction in autophagy.
Supervisor: Tooze, S. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available