A hallmark of neurodegeneration is defective protein quality control. The E3 ligase Listerin (LTN1/Ltn1) acts in a specialized protein quality control pathway—Ribosome-associated Quality Control (RQC)—by mediating proteolytic targeting of incomplete polypeptides produced by ribosome stalling, and
Ltn1mutation leads to neurodegeneration in mice. Whether neurodegeneration results from defective RQC and whether defective RQC contributes to human disease have remained unknown. Here we show that three independently-generated mouse models with mutations in a different component of the RQC complex, NEMF/Rqc2, develop progressive motor neuron degeneration. Equivalent mutations in yeast Rqc2 selectively interfere with its ability to modify aberrant translation products with C-terminal tails which assist with RQC-mediated protein degradation, suggesting a pathomechanism. Finally, we identify NEMFmutations expected to interfere with function in patients from seven families presenting juvenile neuromuscular disease. These uncover NEMF’s role in translational homeostasis in the nervous system and implicate RQC dysfunction in causing neurodegeneration.