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J Biol Chem. 2002 Apr 19;277(16):13873-82. Epub 2002 Feb 8.

MRK, a mixed lineage kinase-related molecule that plays a role in gamma-radiation-induced cell cycle arrest.

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Picower Institute for Medical Research, Manhasset, New York 11030, USA.


Mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathways are three-kinase modules that mediate diverse cellular processes and have been highly conserved among eukaryotes. By using a functional complementation screen in yeast, we have identified a human MAP kinase kinase kinase (MAPKKK) that shares homology with members of the mixed lineage kinase (MLK) family and therefore was called MRK (MLK-related kinase). We report the structure of the MRK gene, from which are generated two splice forms of MRK, MRK-alpha and MRK-beta, encoding for proteins of 800 and 456 amino acids, respectively. By using a combination of solid phase protein kinase assays, transient transfections in cells, and analysis of endogenous proteins in stably transfected Madin-Darby canine kidney cells, we found that MRK-beta preferentially activates ERK6/p38gamma via MKK3/MKK6 and JNK through MKK4/MKK7. We also show that expression of wild type MRK increases the cell population in the G(2)/M phase of the cell cycle, whereas dominant negative MRK attenuates the G(2) arrest caused by gamma-radiation. In addition, exposure of cells to gamma-radiation induces MRK activity. These data suggest that MRK may mediate gamma-radiation signaling leading to cell cycle arrest and that MRK activity is necessary for the cell cycle checkpoint regulation in cells.

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