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J Biol Chem. 2008 Apr 4;283(14):9031-9. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M706487200. Epub 2008 Feb 1.

Mitogen-activated protein kinase ERK1/2 regulates the class II transactivator.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Sarah Lawrence College, 1 Mead Way, Bronxville, NY 10708, USA.


The expression of major histocompatibility class II genes is necessary for proper antigen presentation and induction of an immune response. This expression is initiated by the class II transactivator, CIITA. The establishment of the active form of CIITA is controlled by a series of post-translational events, including GTP binding, ubiquitination, and dimerization. However, the role of phosphorylation is less clearly defined as are the consequences of phosphorylation on CIITA activity and the identity of the kinases involved. In this study we show that the extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2) interact directly with CIITA, targeting serine residues in the amino terminus of the protein, including serine 288. Inhibition of this phosphorylation by dominant-negative forms of ERK or by treatment of cells with the ERK inhibitor PD98059 resulted in the increase in CIITA-mediated gene expression from a class II promoter, enhanced the nuclear concentration of CIITA, and impaired its ability to bind to the nuclear export factor, CRM1. In contrast, inhibition of ERK1/2 activity had little effect on serine-to-alanine mutant forms of CIITA. These data suggest a model whereby ERK1/2-mediated phosphorylation of CIITA down-regulates CIITA activity by priming it for nuclear export, thus providing a means for cells to tightly regulate the extent of antigen presentation.

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