ATF6-alpha is a transmembrane protein located in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane with N-terminal cytoplasmic and C-terminal luminal domains. BiP binds the luminal domain of ATF6-alpha via the substrate binding domain of BiP. Binding of BiP blocks 2 Golgi localization sequences on ATF6-alpha, maintaining ATF6-alpha in the ER.
BiP is also a general chaperone capable of binding unfolded proteins in the ER lumen. When chaperone activity in the ER is overwhelmed, BiP dissociates from ATF6-alpha and binds the excess unfolded proteins. It is unclear whether the dissociation is due to competition of unfolded proteins for BiP or to a more specific interaction between BiP and ATF6-alpha. The dissociation exposes the Golgi localization sequences of ATF6-alpha and allows ATF6-alpha to transit to the Golgi.