Plant autophagy plays an important role in delaying senescence, nutrient recycling, and stress responses. Functional analysis of plant autophagy has almost exclusively focused on the proteins required for the core process of autophagosome assembly, but little is known about the proteins involved in other important processes of autophagy, including autophagy cargo recognition and sequestration. In this study, we report functional genetic analysis of Arabidopsis NBR1, a homolog of mammalian autophagy cargo adaptors P62 and NBR1. We isolated two nbr1 knockout mutants and discovered that they displayed some but not all of the phenotypes of autophagy-deficient atg5 and atg7 mutants. Like ATG5 and ATG7, NBR1 is important for plant tolerance to heat, oxidative, salt, and drought stresses. The role of NBR1 in plant tolerance to these abiotic stresses is dependent on its interaction with ATG8. Unlike ATG5 and ATG7, however, NBR1 is dispensable in age- and darkness-induced senescence and in resistance to a necrotrophic pathogen. A selective role of NBR1 in plant responses to specific abiotic stresses suggest that plant autophagy in diverse biological processes operates through multiple cargo recognition and delivery systems. The compromised heat tolerance of atg5, atg7, and nbr1 mutants was associated with increased accumulation of insoluble, detergent-resistant proteins that were highly ubiquitinated under heat stress. NBR1, which contains an ubiquitin-binding domain, also accumulated to high levels with an increasing enrichment in the insoluble protein fraction in the autophagy-deficient mutants under heat stress. These results suggest that NBR1-mediated autophagy targets ubiquitinated protein aggregates most likely derived from denatured or otherwise damaged nonnative proteins generated under stress conditions.
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved process that sequestrates and delivers cytoplasmic macromolecules and organelles to the vacuoles or lysosomes for degradation. In plants, autophagy is involved in supplying internal nutrients during starvation and in promoting cell survival during senescence and during biotic and abiotic stresses. Arabidopsis NBR1 is a homolog of mammalian autophagy cargo adaptors P62 and NBR1. Disruption of Arabidopsis NBR1 caused increased sensitivity to a spectrum of abiotic stresses but had no significant effect on plant senescence, responses to carbon starvation, or resistance to a necrotrophic pathogen. NBR1 contains an ubiquitin-binding domain, and the compromised stress tolerance of autophagy mutants was associated with increased accumulation of NBR1 and ubiquitin-positive cellular protein aggregates in the insoluble protein fraction under stress conditions. Based on these results, we propose that NBR1 targets ubiquitinated protein aggregates most likely derived from denatured and otherwise damaged nonnative proteins for autophagic clearance under stress conditions.