Palmitoylation of membrane proteins (Review)

S-Palmitoylation is a reversible post-translational modification that results in the addition of a C16-carbon saturated fatty acyl chain to cytoplasmic cysteine residues. This modification is mediated by Palmitoyl-acyl Transferases that are starting to be investigated, and reversed by Protein Palmitoyl Thioesterases, which remain enigmatic. Palmitoylation of cytoplasmic proteins has been well described to regulate the interaction of these soluble proteins with specific membranes or membrane domains. Less is known about the consequences of palmitoylation in transmembrane proteins not only due to the dual difficulty of following a lipid modification and dealing with membrane proteins, but also due to the complexity of the palmitoylation-induced behavior. Moreover, possibly because the available data set is limited, the change in behavior induced by palmitoylation of a transmembrane protein is currently not predictable. We here review the various consequences reported for the palmitoylation of membrane proteins, which include improper folding in the endoplasmic reticulum, retention in the Golgi, inability to assemble into protein platforms, altered signaling capacity, premature endocytosis and missorting in the endocytic pathway. We then discuss the possible underlying mechanisms, in particular the ability of palmitoylation to control the conformation of transmembrane segments, to modify the affinity of a membrane protein for specific membrane domains and to control protein-protein interactions.


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