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Activation loop phosphorylation of the atypical MAP kinases ERK3 and ERK4 is required for binding, activation and cytoplasmic relocalization of MK5.

Déléris P, Rousseau J, Coulombe P, Rodier G, Tanguay PL, Meloche S

Institut de Recherche en Immunologie et Cancérologie, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases are typical examples of protein kinases whose enzymatic activity is mainly controlled by activation loop phosphorylation. The classical MAP kinases ERK1/ERK2, JNK, p38 and ERK5 all contain the conserved Thr-Xxx-Tyr motif in their activation loop that is dually phosphorylated by members of the MAP kinase kinases family. Much less is known about the regulation of the atypical MAP kinases ERK3 and ERK4. These kinases display structural features that distinguish them from other MAP kinases, notably the presence of a single phospho-acceptor site (Ser-Glu-Gly) in the activation loop. Here, we show that ERK3 and ERK4 are phosphorylated in their activation loop in vivo. This phosphorylation is exerted, at least in part, in trans by an upstream cellular kinase. Contrary to classical MAP kinases, activation loop phosphorylation of ERK3 and ERK4 is detected in resting cells and is not further stimulated by strong mitogenic or stress stimuli. However, phosphorylation can be modulated indirectly by interaction with the substrate MAP kinase-activated protein kinase 5 (MK5). Importantly, we found that activation loop phosphorylation of ERK3 and ERK4 stimulates their intrinsic catalytic activity and is required for the formation of stable active complexes with MK5 and, consequently, for efficient cytoplasmic redistribution of ERK3/ERK4-MK5 complexes. Our results demonstrate the importance of activation loop phosphorylation in the regulation of ERK3/ERK4 function and highlight differences in the regulation of atypical MAP kinases as compared to classical family members.

J. Cell. Physiol. 2008;217(3):778-88.

Pubmed ID: 18720373

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