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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2001 Jan 12;280(1):293-300.

The double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase PKR is dispensable for regulation of translation initiation in response to either calcium mobilization from the endoplasmic reticulum or essential amino acid starvation.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Pennsylvania State University, College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033, USA.


The alpha-subunit of eukaryotic initiation factor eIF2 is a preferred substrate for the double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase, PKR. Phosphorylation of eIF2alpha converts the factor from a substrate into a competitive inhibitor of the guanine nucleotide exchange factor, eIF2B, leading to a decline in mRNA translation. Early studies provided evidence implicating PKR as the kinase that phosphorylates eIF2alpha under conditions of cell stress such as the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum, i.e., the unfolded protein response (UPR). However, the recent identification of a trans-microsomal membrane eIF2alpha kinase, termed PEK or PERK, suggests that this kinase, and not PKR, might be the kinase that is activated by misfolded protein accumulation. Similarly, genetic studies in yeast provide compelling evidence that a kinase termed GCN2 phosphorylates eIF2alpha in response to amino acid deprivation. However, no direct evidence showing activation of the mammalian homologue of GCN2 by amino acid deprivation has been reported. In the present study, we find that in fibroblasts treated with agents that promote the UPR, protein synthesis is inhibited as a result of a decrease in eIF2B activity. Furthermore, the reduction in eIF2B activity is associated with enhanced phosphorylation of eIF2alpha. Importantly, the magnitude of the change in each parameter is identical in wildtype cells and in fibroblasts containing a chromosomal deletion in the PKR gene (PKR-KO cells). In a similar manner, we find that during amino acid deprivation the inhibition of protein synthesis and extent of increase in eIF2alpha phosphorylation are identical in wildtype and PKR-KO cells. Overall, the results show that PKR is not required for increased eIF2alpha phosphorylation or inhibition of protein synthesis under conditions promoting the UPR or in response to amino acid deprivation.

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