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Oncogene. 2002 Mar 28;21(14):2236-44.

PAK1 primes MEK1 for phosphorylation by Raf-1 kinase during cross-cascade activation of the ERK pathway.

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  • 1School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Nottingham Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK.


The serine/threonine kinase Raf-1 acts downstream of Ras in the MAPK pathway leading to ERK activation in response to mitogens. Raf-1 has oncogenic potential, but is normally controlled by a complex interplay of inhibitory and activating mechanisms. Although Raf-1 is phosphorylated in unstimulated cells, mitogens cause its membrane recruitment by Ras and subsequent phosphorylation on additional sites. Some of these events modulate Raf-1 kinase activity while others determine interactions with other proteins. These changes regulate the ability of Raf-1 to phosphorylate its downstream targets MEK1 and MEK2. Rho family small G proteins act synergistically with Raf-1 to stimulate the ERK pathway by a cross-cascade mechanism that enhances MEK phosphorylation by Raf-1. Here we show that both Raf-1 and MEK1 are phosphorylated by PAK1 and that mutations at PAK1 phosphorylation sites in either protein prevent cross-cascade activation. In contrast, MEK1 activation by constitutively-active Raf-1 is refractory to mutations at PAK1 phosphorylation sites. Phosphorylation of MEK1 on serine 298 does not appear to regulate the interaction between Raf-1 and MEK1, but rather the ability of Raf-1 to phosphorylate MEK1 with which it is complexed in vivo. Our findings indicate that PAK1 primes MEK1 for activation by Raf-1 and imply another level of regulation in the ERK cascade.

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