Since their initial discovery around two decades ago, the yeast autophagy-related (Atg)8 protein and its mammalian homologues of the light chain 3 (LC3) and γ-aminobutyric acid receptor associated proteins (GABARAP) families have been key for the tremendous expansion of our knowledge about autophagy, a process in which cytoplasmic material become targeted for lysosomal degradation. These proteins are ubiquitin-like proteins that become directly conjugated to a lipid in the autophagy membrane upon induction of autophagy, thus providing a marker of the pathway, allowing studies of autophagosome biogenesis and maturation. Moreover, the ATG8 proteins function to recruit components of the core autophagy machinery as well as cargo for selective degradation. Importantly, comprehensive structural and biochemical in vitro studies of the machinery required for ATG8 protein lipidation, as well as their genetic manipulation in various model organisms, have provided novel insight into the molecular mechanisms and pathophysiological roles of the mATG8 proteins. Recently, it has become evident that the ATG8 proteins and their conjugation machinery are also involved in intracellular pathways and processes not related to autophagy. This review focuses on the molecular functions of ATG8 proteins and their conjugation machinery in autophagy and other pathways, as well as their links to disease.
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