The small protein ubiquitin, familiar for its role in post-translational modification of other proteins by binding to them and regulating their activity or stability, is shown here to be the substrate of the kinase PINK1, which together with the ubiquitin ligase parkin is a causal gene for hereditary recessive Parkinsonism. Noriyuki Matsuda and colleagues show that following a decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential, PINK1 phosphorylates ubiquitin at serine residue 65; the phosphorylated ubiquitin then interacts with parkin, which is also phosphorylated by PINK1. This interaction allows full activation of parkin enzymatic activity, which involves tagging mitochondrial substrates with ubiquitin.
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