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J Biol Chem. 1997 Jun 13;272(24):15167-73.

MST/MLK2, a member of the mixed lineage kinase family, directly phosphorylates and activates SEK1, an activator of c-Jun N-terminal kinase/stress-activated protein kinase.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Yokohama City University School of Medicine, 3-9, Fukuura, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama 236, Japan.


c-Jun N-terminal kinases/stress-activated protein kinases (JNKs/SAPKs) are mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-related protein kinases that are involved in several cellular events, including growth, differentiation, and apoptosis. Mixed lineage kinases (MLKs) form a family of protein kinases sharing two leucine zipper-like motifs and a kinase domain whose primary structure is similar to both the tyrosine-specific and the serine/threonine-specific kinase classes. We have reported that a member of the MLK family, MUK/DLK/ZPK, can activate JNK/SAPK in vivo, and here we show that another member of the MLK family, MST/MLK2, activates JNK/SAPK. Both MUK/DLK/ZPK and MST/MLK2 cause a slight activation of p38/Mpk2 when overexpressed in COS-1 cells, whereas MST/MLK2, but not MUK/DLK/ZPK, activates extracellular response kinase (ERK) to a certain degree. The activity of SEK1/MKK4/JNKK, a MAPK kinase class protein kinase designated as a direct activator of JNK/SAPK, is also induced by MUK/DLK/ZPK or MST/MLK2 overexpression. Furthermore, recombinant MST/MLK2 produced in bacteria directly phosphorylates and activates SEK1/MKK4/JNKK in vitro, showing that MST/MLK2 acts like a MAPK kinase kinase. Taken together, these results suggest that MLK family members are MAPK kinase kinases preferentially acting on the JNK/SAPK pathway.

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