Cells have developed an evolutionary obligation to survey and maintain proteome fidelity and avoid the possible toxic consequences of protein misfolding and aggregation. Disturbances to protein homoeostasis (proteostasis) can result in severe cellular phenotypes and are closely linked with the accumulation of microscopically visible deposits of aggregated proteins. These include inclusion bodies found in AD (Alzheimer's disease), HD (Huntington's disease) and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) patient neurons. Protein aggregation is intimately linked with the ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like post-translational modifier system, which manages cellular protein folding stress and promotes the restoration of proteostasis. This is achieved in large part through the action of the UPS (ubiquitin–proteasome system), which is responsible for directing the proteasomal destruction of misfolded and damaged proteins tagged with ubiquitin chains. There are other less well understood ways in which ubiquitin family members can help to maintain proteostasis that complement, but are independent of, the UPS. This article discusses our current understanding of how the ubiquitin family regulates the protein misfolding pathways that threaten proteome fidelity, and how this is achieved by the key players in this process.

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