Research article

Insulin regulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK), mitogen-activated protein kinase and casein kinase in the cell nucleus: a possible role in the regulation of gene expression

Sung-Jin KIM, Ronald C. KAHN


After insulin receptor activation, many cytoplasmic enzymes, including mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase, MAP kinase kinase (MEK) and casein kinase II (CKII) are activated, but exactly how insulin signalling progresses to the nucleus remains poorly understood. In Chinese hamster ovary cells overexpressing human insulin receptors [CHO(Hirc)], MEK, CKII and the MAP kinases ERK I and ERK II can be detected by immunoblotting in the nucleus, as well as in the cytoplasm, in the unstimulated state. Nuclear localization of MAP kinase is also observed in 3T3-F442A adipocytes, NIH-3T3 cells and Fao hepatoma cells, whereas MEK is found in the nucleus only in Fao and CHO cells. Insulin treatment for 5–30 min induces a translocation of MEK from the cytoplasm to the nucleus, whereas the MAP kinases and CKII are not translocated into the nucleus in response to insulin during this period. However, nuclear MAP kinase and CKII activities increase by 2–3-fold within 1–10 min after stimulation with insulin. By using gel-shift assays, it has been shown that insulin also stimulates nuclear protein binding to an AP-1 site with kinetics similar to MEK translocation and MAP kinase and CKII activation. Treatment of the extracts in vitro with protein phosphatase 2A or treatment of the intact cells with 5,6-dichloro-1-β-d-ribofuranosylbenzimidazole, a cell-permeable inhibitor of CKII, almost completely blocks the insulin-induced DNA-binding activity, whereas incubation of cells with a MEK inhibitor produces only a slight decrease. These results suggest that insulin signalling results in the activation of serine kinases in the nucleus via two pathways: (1) insulin stimulates the nuclear translocation of some kinases, such as MEK, which might directly phosphorylate nuclear protein substrates or activate other nuclear kinases, and (2) insulin activates nuclear kinases without translocation. The latter is true of CKII, which seems to regulate the binding of nuclear proteins to the AP-1 site, possibly by phosphorylation of AP-1 transcription factors.