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Biochemistry. 2001 Sep 25;40(38):11543-51.

Multiple autophosphorylation is essential for the formation of the active and stable homodimer of heme-regulated eIF2alpha kinase.

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Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


In heme-deficient reticulocytes, protein synthesis is inhibited due to the activation of heme-regulated eIF2alpha kinase (HRI). Activation of HRI is accompanied by its phosphorylation. We have investigated the role of autophosphorylation in the formation of active and stable HRI. Two autophosphorylated species of recombinant HRI expressed in Escherichia coli were resolved by SDS-PAGE. Both species of HRI were multiply autophosphorylated on serine, threonine, and to a lesser degree also tyrosine residues. Species II HRI exhibited a much higher extent of autophosphorylation and thus migrates slower in SDS-PAGE than species I HRI. Similarly, HRI naturally present in reticulocytes also exhibited these species with different degrees of phosphorylation. Importantly, in heme-deficient intact reticulocytes, inactive species I HRI was converted completely into species II. We further separated and characterized these two species biochemically. We found that species I was inactive and had a tendency to aggregate while the more extensively autophosphorylated species II was an active heme-regulated eIF2alpha kinase and stable homodimer. Our results strongly suggest that autophosphorylation regulates HRI in a two-stage mechanism. In the first stage, autophosphorylation of newly synthesized HRI stabilizes species I HRI against aggregation. Although species I is an active autokinase, it is still without eIF2alpha kinase activity. Additional multiple autophosphorylation in the second stage is required for the formation of stable dimeric HRI (species II) with eIF2alpha kinase activity that is regulated by heme.

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