Autophagy is an intracellular degradation pathway whose levels are tightly controlled to secure cell homeostasis. Unc-51-like kinase 1 (ULK1) is a conserved serine-threonine kinase that plays a central role in the initiation of autophagy. Here, we report that upon autophagy progression, ULK1 protein levels are specifically down-regulated by the E3 ligase NEDD4L, which ubiquitylates ULK1 for degradation by the proteasome. However, whereas ULK1 protein is degraded, ULK1 mRNA is actively transcribed. Upon reactivation of mTOR-dependent protein synthesis, basal levels of ULK1 are promptly restored, but the activity of newly synthesized ULK1 is inhibited by mTOR. This prepares the cell for a new possible round of autophagy stimulation. Our results thus place NEDD4L and ULK1 in a key position to control oscillatory activation of autophagy during prolonged stress to keep the levels of this process under a safe and physiological threshold.
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