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Nature. 1994 May 12;369(6476):156-60.

The stress-activated protein kinase subfamily of c-Jun kinases.

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  • 1Diabetes Research Laboratory, Medical Services, Massachusetts General Hospital East, Charlestown 02129.


The mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases Erk-1 and Erk-2 are proline-directed kinases that are themselves activated through concomitant phosphorylation of tyrosine and threonine residues. The kinase p54 (M(r) 54,000), which was first isolated from cycloheximide-treated rats, is proline-directed like Erks-1/2, and requires both Tyr and Ser/Thr phosphorylation for activity. p54 is, however, distinct from Erks-1/2 in its substrate specificity, being unable to phosphorylate pp90rsk but more active in phosphorylating the c-Jun transactivation domain. Molecular cloning of p54 reveals a unique subfamily of extracellularly regulated kinases. Although they are 40-45% identical in sequence to Erks-1/2, unlike Erks-1/2 the p54s are only poorly activated in most cells by mitogens or phorbol esters. However, p54s are the principal c-Jun N-terminal kinases activated by cellular stress and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, hence they are designated stress-activated protein kinases, or SAPKs. SAPKs are also activated by sphingomyelinase, which elicits a subset of cellular responses to TNF-alpha (ref. 9). SAPKs therefore define a new TNF-alpha and stress-activated signalling pathway, possibly initiated by sphingomyelin-based second messengers, which regulates the activity of c-Jun.

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