The proteolysis adaptor, NblA, initiates protein pigment degradation by interacting with the cyanobacterial light-harvesting complexes



Degradation of the cyanobacterial protein pigment complexes, the phycobilisomes, is a central acclimation response that controls light energy capture. The small protein, NblA, is essential for proteolysis of these large complexes, which may reach a molecular mass of up to 4 MDa. Interactions of NblA in vitro supported the suggestion that NblA is a proteolysis adaptor that labels the pigment proteins for degradation. The mode of operation of NblA in situ, however, remained unresolved. Particularly, it was unclear whether NblA interacts with phycobilisome proteins while part of the large complex, or alternatively interaction with NblA, necessitates dissociation of pigment subunits from the assembly. Fluorescence intensity profiles demonstrated the preferential presence of NblA::GFP (green fluorescent protein) at the photosynthetic membranes, indicating co-localization with phycobilisomes. Furthermore, fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy provided in situ evidence for interaction of NblA with phycobilisome protein pigments. Additionally, we demonstrated the role of NblA in vivo as a proteolysis tag based on the rapid degradation of the fusion protein NblA::GFP compared with free GFP. Taken together, these observations demonstrated in vivo the role of NblA as a proteolysis adaptor. Additionally, the interaction of NblA with phycobilisomes indicates that the dissociation of protein pigment subunits from the large complex is not a prerequisite for interaction with this adaptor and, furthermore, implicates NblA in the disassembly of the protein pigment complex. Thus, we suggest that, in the case of proteolysis of the phycobilisome, the adaptor serves a dual function: undermining the complex stability and designating the dissociated pigments for degradation.