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WD-repeat proteins are regulatory beta-propeller platforms that enable the assembly of multiprotein complexes. Here, we report the functional and bioinformatic analysis of human WD-repeat protein Interacting with PhosphoInosides (WIPI)-1alpha (WIPI49/Atg18), a member of a novel WD-repeat protein family with autophagic capacity in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Caenorhabditis elegans, recently identified as phospholipid-binding effectors. Our phylogenetic analysis divides the WIPI protein family into two paralogous groups that fold into 7-bladed beta-propellers. Structural modeling identified two evolutionary conserved interaction sites in WIPI propellers, one of which may bind phospholipids. Human WIPI-1alpha has LXXLL signature motifs for nuclear receptor interactions and binds androgen and estrogen receptors in vitro. Strikingly, human WIPI genes were found aberrantly expressed in a variety of matched tumor tissues including kidney, pancreatic and skin cancer. We found that endogenous hWIPI-1 protein colocalizes in part with the autophagosomal marker LC3 at punctate cytoplasmic structures in human melanoma cells. In addition, hWIPI-1 accumulated in large vesicular and cup-shaped structures in the cytoplasm when autophagy was induced by amino-acid deprivation. These cytoplasmic formations were blocked by wortmannin, a classic inhibitor of PI-3 kinase-mediated autophagy. Our data suggest that WIPI proteins share an evolutionary conserved function in autophagy and that autophagic capacity may be compromised in human cancers.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





9314 - 9325


Amino Acid Sequence, Autophagy, Glutathione Transferase, HeLa Cells, Humans, Molecular Sequence Data, Neoplasm Proteins, Neoplasms, Phylogeny, Protein Binding, Receptors, Steroid, Recombinant Fusion Proteins, Sequence Homology, Amino Acid, Starvation