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J Biol Chem. 2002 Jul 19;277(29):26573-80. Epub 2002 May 8.

Deciphering the phosphorylation "code" of the glucocorticoid receptor in vivo.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Kaplan Comprehensive Cancer Center, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York 10016, USA.


The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is phosphorylated at multiple serine residues in a hormone-dependent manner, yet progress on elucidating the function of GR phosphorylation has been hindered by the lack of a simple assay to detect receptor phosphorylation in vivo. We have produced antibodies that specifically recognize phosphorylation sites within human GR at Ser(203) and Ser(211). In the absence of hormone, the level of GR phosphorylation at Ser(211) was low compared with phosphorylation at Ser(203). Phosphorylation of both residues increased upon treatment with the GR agonist dexamethasone. Using a battery of agonists and antagonists, we found that the transcriptional activity of GR correlated with the amount of phosphorylation at Ser(211), suggesting that Ser(211) phosphorylation is a biomarker for activated GR in vivo. Mechanistically, the kinetics of Ser(203) and Ser(211) phosphorylation in response to hormone differed, with Ser(211) displaying a more robust and sustained phosphorylation relative to Ser(203). Analysis of GR immunoprecipitates with phospho-GR-specific antibodies indicated that the receptor was phosphorylated heterogeneously at Ser(203) in the absence of hormone, whereas in the presence of hormone, a subpopulation of receptors was phosphorylated at both Ser(203) and Ser(211). Interestingly, biochemical fractionation studies following hormone treatment indicated that the Ser(203)-phosphorylated form of the receptor was predominantly cytoplasmic, whereas Ser(211)-phosphorylated GR was found in the nucleus. Likewise, by immunofluorescence, Ser(203)-phosphorylated GR was located in the cytoplasm and perinuclear regions of the cell, but not in the nucleoplasm, whereas strong phospho-Ser(211) staining was evident in the nucleoplasm of hormone-treated cells. Our results suggest that differentially phosphorylated receptor species are located in unique subcellular compartments, likely modulating distinct aspects of receptor function.

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