Pathways localizing proteins to their sites of action within a cell are essential for eukaryotic cell organization and function. Although mechanisms of protein targeting to many organelles have been defined, little is known about how proteins, such as key metabolic enzymes, target from the ER to cellular lipid droplets (LDs). Here, we identify two distinct pathways for ER-to-LD (ERTOLD) protein targeting: early ERTOLD, occurring during LD formation, and late ERTOLD, targeting mature LDs after their formation. By using systematic, unbiased approaches, we identified specific membrane-fusion machinery, including regulators, a tether, and SNARE proteins, that are required for late ERTOLD targeting. Components of this fusion machinery localize to LD-ER interfaces and appear to be organized at ER exit sites (ERES) to generate ER-LD membrane bridges. We also identified multiple cargoes for early and late ERTOLD. Collectively, our data provide a new model for how proteins target LDs from the ER.
Steroid hormones are a group of lipophilic hormones that are believed to enter cells by simple diffusion to regulate diverse physiological processes through intracellular nuclear receptors. Here, we challenge this model in Drosophila by demonstrating that Ecdysone Importer (EcI), a membrane transporter identified from two independent genetic screens, is involved in cellular uptake of the steroid hormone ecdysone. EcI encodes an organic anion transporting polypeptide of the evolutionarily conserved solute carrier organic anion superfamily. In vivo, EcI loss of function causes phenotypes indistinguishable from ecdysone- or ecdysone receptor (EcR)-deficient animals, and EcI knockdown inhibits cellular uptake of ecdysone. Furthermore, EcI regulates ecdysone signaling in a cell-autonomous manner and is both necessary and sufficient for inducing ecdysone-dependent gene expression in culture cells expressing EcR. Altogether, our results challenge the simple diffusion model for cellular uptake of ecdysone and may have wide implications for basic and medical aspects of steroid hormone studies.