Numerous proteins that have hydrophobic transmembrane domains (TMDs) traverse the cytosol and posttranslationally insert into cellular membranes. It is unclear how these hydrophobic membrane proteins evade recognition by the cytosolic protein quality control (PQC), which typically recognizes exposed hydrophobicity in misfolded proteins and marks them for proteasomal degradation by adding ubiquitin chains. Here, we find that tail-anchored (TA) proteins, a vital class of membrane proteins, are recognized by cytosolic PQC and are ubiquitinated as soon as they are synthesized in cells. Surprisingly, the ubiquitinated TA proteins are not routed for proteasomal degradation but instead are handed over to the targeting factor, TRC40, and delivered to the ER for insertion. The ER-associated deubiquitinases, USP20 and USP33, remove ubiquitin chains from TA proteins after their insertion into the ER. Thus, our data suggest that deubiquitinases rescue posttranslationally targeted membrane proteins that are inappropriately ubiquitinated by PQC in the cytosol.

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