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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44358. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044358. Epub 2012 Sep 10.

Serine-71 phosphorylation of Rac1 modulates downstream signaling.

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  • 1Department of Toxicology, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.


The Rho GTPases Rac1 and Cdc42 regulate a variety of cellular functions by signaling to different signal pathways. It is believed that the presence of a specific effector at the location of GTPase activation determines the route of downstream signaling. We previously reported about EGF-induced Ser-71 phosphorylation of Rac1/Cdc42. By using the phosphomimetic S71E-mutants of Rac1 and Cdc42 we investigated the impact of Ser-71 phosphorylation on binding to selected effector proteins. Binding of the constitutively active (Q61L) variants of Rac1 and Cdc42 to their specific interaction partners Sra-1 and N-WASP, respectively, as well as to their common effector protein PAK was abrogated when Ser-71 was exchanged to glutamate as phosphomimetic substitution. Interaction with their common effector proteins IQGAP1/2/3 or MRCK alpha was, however, hardly affected. This ambivalent behaviour was obvious in functional assays. In contrast to Rac1 Q61L, phosphomimetic Rac1 Q61L/S71E was not able to induce increased membrane ruffling. Instead, Rac1 Q61L/S71E allowed filopodia formation, which is in accordance with abrogation of the dominant Sra-1/Wave signalling pathway. In addition, in contrast to Rac1 transfected cells Rac1 S71E failed to activate PAK1/2. On the other hand, Rac1 Q61L/S71E was as effective in activation of NF-kappaB as Rac1 Q61L, illustrating positive signal transduction of phosphorylated Rac1. Together, these data suggest that phosphorylation of Rac1 and Cdc42 at serine-71 represents a reversible mechanism to shift specificity of GTPase/effector coupling, and to preferentially address selected downstream pathways.

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