Hundreds of tail-anchored proteins, including soluble N-ethylmaleimide- sensitive factor attachment receptors (SNAREs) involved in vesicle fusion, are inserted post-translationally into the endoplasmic reticulum membrane by a dedicated protein-targeting pathway. Before insertion, the carboxy-terminal transmembrane domains of tail-anchored proteins are shielded in the cytosol by the conserved targeting factor Get3 (in yeast; TRC40 in mammals). The Get3 endoplasmic-reticulum receptor comprises the cytosolic domains of the Get1/2 (WRB/CAML) transmembrane complex, which interact individually with the targeting factor to drive a conformational change that enables substrate release and, as a consequence, insertion. Because tail-anchored protein insertion is not associated with significant translocation of hydrophilic protein sequences across the membrane, it remains possible that Get1/2 cytosolic domains are sufficient to place Get3 in proximity with the endoplasmic-reticulum lipid bilayer and permit spontaneous insertion to occur. Here we use cell reporters and biochemical reconstitution to define mutations in the Get1/2 transmembrane domain that disrupt tail-anchored protein insertion without interfering with Get1/2 cytosolic domain function. These mutations reveal a novel Get1/2 insertase function, in the absence of which substrates stay bound to Get3 despite their proximity to the lipid bilayer; as a consequence, the notion of spontaneous transmembrane domain insertion is a non sequitur. Instead, the Get1/2 transmembrane domain helps to release substrates from Get3 by capturing their transmembrane domains, and these transmembrane interactions define a bona fide pre-integrated intermediate along a facilitated route for tail-anchor entry into the lipid bilayer. Our work sheds light on the fundamental point of convergence between co-translational and post-translational endoplasmic- reticulum membrane protein targeting and insertion: a mechanism for reducing the ability of a targeting factor to shield its substrates enables substrate handover to a transmembrane-domain-docking site embedded in the endoplasmic-reticulum membrane.
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