Elevated levels of certain membrane proteins, including the sterol biosynthetic enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, induce proliferation of the endoplasmic reticulum. When the amounts of these proteins return to basal levels, the proliferated membranes are degraded, but the molecular details of this degradation remain unknown. We have examined the degradation of HMG-CoA reductase-induced membranes in the fission yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe. In this yeast, increased levels of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae HMG-CoA reductase isozyme encoded by HMG1 induced several types of membranes, including karmellae, which formed a cap of stacked membranes that partially surrounded the nucleus. When expression of HMG1 was repressed, the karmellae detached from the nucleus and formed concentric, multilayered membrane whorls that were then degraded. During the degradation process, CDCFDA-stained compartments distinct from preexisting vacuoles formed within the interior of the whorls. In addition to these compartments, particles that contained neutral lipids also formed within the whorl. As the thickness of the whorl decreased, the lipid particle became larger. When degradation was complete, only the lipid particle remained. Cycloheximide treatment did not prevent the formation of whorls. Thus, new protein synthesis was not needed for the initial stages of karmellae degradation. On the contrary, cycloheximide promoted the detachment of karmellae to form whorls, suggesting that a short lived protein may be involved in maintaining karmellae integrity. Taken together, these results demonstrate that karmellae membranes differentiated into self-degradative organelles. This process may be a common pathway by which ER membranes are turned over in cells.

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