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The a-factor receptor (Ste3p) is one of two pheromone receptors in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae that enable the cell-cell communication of mating. In this report, we show that this receptor is subject to two distinct covalent modifications-phosphorylation and ubiquitination. Phosphorylation, evident on the unstimulated receptor, increases upon challenge by the receptor's ligand, a-factor. We suggest that this phosphorylation likely functions in the adaptive, negative regulation of receptor activity. Removal of phosphorylation by phosphatase treatment uncovered two phosphatase-resistant modifications identified as ubiquitination using a myc-epitope-tagged ubiquitin construct. Ste3p undergoes rapid, ligand-independent turnover that depends on vacuolar proteases and also on transport of the receptor from surface to vacuole (i.e., endocytosis) (Davis, N.G., J.L.Horecka, and G.F. Sprague, Jr., 1993 J. Cell Biol. 122:53-65). An end4 mutation, isolated for its defect in the endocytic uptake of alpha-factor pheromone (Raths, S., J. Rohrer, F. Crausaz, and H. Riezman. 1993. J. Cell Biol. 120:55-65), blocks constitutive endocytosis of the a-factor receptor, yet fails to block ubiquitination of the receptor. In fact, both phosphorylation and ubiquitination of the surfacebound receptor were found to increase, suggesting that these modifications may occur normally while the receptor is at the cell surface. In a mutant strain constructed to allow for depletion of ubiquitin, the level of receptor ubiquitination was found to be substantially decreased. Correlated with this was an impairment of receptor degradative turnover-receptor half-life that is normally approximately 20 min at 30 degrees C was increased to approximately 2 h under these ubiquitin-depletion conditions. Furthermore, surface residency, normally of short duration in wild-type cells (terminated by endocytosis to the vacuole), was found to be prolonged; the majority of the receptor protein remained surface localized fully 2 h after biosynthesis. Thus, the rates of a-factor receptor endocytosis and consequent vacuolar turnover depend on the available level of ubiquitin in the cell. In cells mutant for two E2 activities, i.e., ubc4 delta ubc5 delta cells, the receptor was found to be substantially less ubiquitinated, and in addition, receptor turnover was slowed, suggesting that Ubc4p and Ubc5p may play a role in the recognition of the receptor protein as substrate for the ubiquitin system. In addition to ligand-independent uptake, the a-factor receptor also undergoes a ligand-dependent form of endocytosis (Davis, N.G., J.L. Horecka, and G.F. Sprague, Jr. 1993. J. Cell. Biol. 122:53-65). Concurrent with ligand-dependent uptake, we now show that the receptor undergoes ligand-induced ubiquitination, suggesting that receptor ubiquitination may function in the ligand-dependent endocytosis of the a-factor receptor as well as in its constitutive endocytosis. To account for these findings, we propose a model wherein the covalent attachment of ubiquitin to surface receptor triggers endocytic uptake.