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J Biol Chem. 2003 Sep 12;278(37):34918-24. Epub 2003 Jun 24.

Kennedy's disease. Phosphorylation of the polyglutamine-expanded form of androgen receptor regulates its cleavage by caspase-3 and enhances cell death.

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  • 1Buck Institute for Aging Research, Novato, California 94945, USA.


X-linked spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy is a degenerative disease affecting motor neurons that is caused by polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion within the androgen receptor (AR). The polyQ-expanded form of AR is cytotoxic to cells, and proteolytic cleavage enhances cell death. The intracellular signaling pathways activated and/or required for cell death induced by the expanded form of AR (AR112) are unknown. We found that AR regulates mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase) pathways and, therefore, hypothesized that these pathway(s) may be required for AR112-induced cell death. The polyQ expansion in AR activates three MAP kinase pathways, causing increasing levels of phosphorylation of p44/42, p38, and SAPK/JNK MAP kinase. Inhibitors of either the JNK or p38 pathways had no effect on AR112-induced cell death, suggesting they are not required for polyQ-induced cell death. Strikingly, the MEK1/2 inhibitor, U0126, which selectively inhibits the p44/42 MAP kinase pathway, reduces AR112-stimulated cell death. The inhibition of the MEK1/2 pathway correlates directly with a change in phosphorylation state of the androgen receptor. Mutation of the MAP kinase consensus phosphorylation site in AR at serine 514 blocked AR-induced cell death and the generation of caspase-3-derived cleavage products. We propose a mechanism by which phosphorylation at serine 514 of AR enhances the ability of caspase-3 to cleave AR and generate cytotoxic polyQ fragments.

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