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Curr Biol. 2001 Nov 27;11(23):1815-24.

Role of scaffolds in MAP kinase pathway specificity revealed by custom design of pathway-dedicated signaling proteins.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 377 Plantation Street, Worcester, MA 01605, USA.



Signal transduction pathways with shared components must be insulated from each other to avoid the inappropriate activation of multiple pathways by a single stimulus. Scaffold proteins are thought to contribute to this specificity by binding select substrates.


We have studied the ability of scaffold proteins to influence signaling by the yeast kinase Ste11, a MAPKKK molecule that participates in three distinct MAP kinase pathways: mating, filamentation, and HOG. We used protein fusions to force Ste11 to associate preferentially with a subset of its possible binding partners in vivo, including Ste5, Ste7, and Pbs2. Signaling became confined to a particular pathway when Ste11 was covalently attached to these scaffolds or substrates. This pathway bias was conferred upon both stimulus-activated and constitutively active forms of Ste11. We also used membrane-targeted derivatives of the mating pathway scaffold, Ste5, to show that stimulus-independent signaling initiated by this scaffold remained pathway specific. Finally, we demonstrate that loss of pathway insulation has a negative physiological consequence, as nonspecific activation of both the HOG and mating pathways interfered with proper execution of the mating pathway.


The signaling properties of these kinase fusions support a model in which scaffold proteins dictate substrate choice and promote pathway specificity by presenting preferred substrates in high local concentration. Furthermore, insulation is inherent to scaffold-mediated signaling and does not require that signaling be initiated by pathway-specific stimuli or activator proteins. Our results give insight into the mechanisms and physiological importance of pathway insulation and provide a foundation for the design of customized signaling proteins.

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