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EMBO J. Oct 1, 1999; 18(19): 5347–5358.
PMCID: PMC1171604

Two co-existing mechanisms for nuclear import of MAP kinase: passive diffusion of a monomer and active transport of a dimer.


In response to extracellular stimuli, mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK, also known as ERK) translocates from the cytoplasm to the nucleus. MAP kinase kinase (MAPKK, also know as MEK), which possesses a nuclear export signal (NES), acts as a cytoplasmic anchor of MAPK. Here we show evidence that tyrosine (Tyr190 in Xenopus MPK1/ERK2) phosphorylation of MAPK by MAPKK is necessary and sufficient for the dissociation of the MAPKK-MAPK complex, and that the dissociation of the complex is required for the nuclear translocation of MAPK. We then show that nuclear entry of MAPK through a nuclear pore occurs via two distinct mechanisms. Nuclear import of wild-type MAPK (mol. wt 42 kDa) was induced by activation of the MAPK pathway even in the presence of wheat germ agglutinin or dominant-negative Ran, whereas nuclear import of beta-galactosidase (beta-gal)-fused MAPK (mol. wt 160 kDa), which occurred in response to stimuli, was completely blocked by these inhibitors. Moreover, while a dimerization-deficient mutant of MAPK was able to translocate to the nucleus upon stimulation, this mutant MAPK, when fused to beta-gal, became unable to enter the nucleus. These results suggest that monomeric and dimeric forms of MAPK enter the nucleus by passive diffusion and active transport mechanisms, respectively.

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