Biochemical Journal

Research article

Synergistic activation of stress-activated protein kinase 1/c-Jun N-terminal kinase (SAPK1/JNK) isoforms by mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 4 (MKK4) and MKK7

Yvonne FLEMING, Christopher G. ARMSTRONG, Nick MORRICE, Andrew PATERSON, Michel GOEDERT, Philip COHEN


Stress-activated protein kinase 1 (SAPK1), also called c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), becomes activated in vivo in response to pro-inflammatory cytokines or cellular stresses. Its full activation requires the phosphorylation of a threonine and a tyrosine residue in a Thr-Pro-Tyr motif, which can be catalysed by the protein kinases mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MKK)4 and MKK7. Here we report that MKK4 shows a striking preference for the tyrosine residue (Tyr-185), and MKK7 a striking preference for the threonine residue (Thr-183) in three SAPK1/JNK1 isoforms tested (JNK1α1, JNK2α2 and JNK3α1). For this reason, MKK4 and MKK7 together produce a synergistic increase in the activity of each SAPK1/JNK isoform in vitro. The MKK7β variant, which is several hundred-fold more efficient in activating all three SAPK1/JNK isoforms than is MKK7α´, is equally specific for Thr-183. MKK7 also phosphorylates JNK2α2 at Thr-404 and Ser-407 in vitro, Ser-407 being phosphorylated much more rapidly than Thr-183 in vitro. Thr-404/Ser-407 are phosphorylated in unstimulated human KB cells and HEK-293 cells, and phosphorylation is increased in response to an osmotic stress (0.5M sorbitol). However, in contrast with Thr-183 and Tyr-185, the phosphorylation of Thr-404 and Ser-407 is not increased in response to other agonists that activate MKK7 and SAPK1/JNK, suggesting that phosphorylation of these residues is catalysed by another protein kinase, such as CK2, which also phosphorylates Thr-404 and Ser-407 in vitro. MKK3, MKK4 and MKK6 all show a strong preference for phosphorylation of the tyrosine residue of the Thr-Gly-Tyr motifs in their known substrates SAPK2a/p38, SAPK3/p38γ and SAPK4/p38δ. MKK7 also phosphorylates SAPK2a/p38 at a low rate (but not SAPK3/p38γ or SAPK4/p38δ), and phosphorylation occurs exclusively at the tyrosine residue, demonstrating that MKK7 is intrinsically a ‘dual-specific’ protein kinase.

  • cellular stress
  • MAP kinase
  • proinflammatory cytokine; protein phosphorylation