Research Group of Natural Materials and Metabolism, Korea Food Research Institute, Wanju-gun, Jeollabuk-do, 55365, Republic of Korea; Department of Food Biotechnology, University of Science and Technology, Daejeon, 34113, Republic of Korea. Electronic address: [Email]
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and autophagy are regulated by shared signaling pathways, and their dysfunction is directly related to pathological conditions. This study investigated the function of the unc-51 like autophagy activating kinase 1 (ULK1)-autophagy related 13 (ATG13) complex in ER stress conditions through a knockout (KO) approach. Unlike other autophagy genes, KO of ULK1 or ATG13 attenuated ER stress and promoted mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) activation. Compared with wild type (WT) cells, ULK1 and ATG13 KO cells displayed increased viability, while beclin 1, ATG14, and ULK1/2 KO cells did not. Tunicamycin treatment upregulated the expression of ER stress markers (DNA damage inducible transcript 3, heat shock protein family A (Hsp70) member 5, and phosphorylated eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 alpha kinase 3, eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 subunit alpha, and endoplasmic reticulum to nucleus signaling 1); however, these were decreased in ULK1 and ATG13 KO cells. Insulin treatment upregulates the phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6 kinase B1 (RPS6KB1) and AKT serine/threonine kinase 1 (AKT1), which was suppressed by tunicamycin. Notably, ATG13 and ULK1 deficiency ameliorated tunicamycin-induced insulin resistance, with enhanced RPS6KB1 and AKT1 phosphorylation in KO cells compared to WT cells. Although ULK1 and ATG13 are necessary for autophagy induction after tunicamycin-induced ER stress, autophagy does not seem to directly affect tunicamycin-induced cell death, ER stress, or insulin resistance. Our results indicate that loss of the ULK1-ATG13 complex attenuates ER stress and cell death and increases mTORC1 signaling.