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Cancer Res. 2003 Jan 1;63(1):250-5.

Constitutively active forms of c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase are expressed in primary glial tumors.

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Department of Microbiology, Kimmel Cancer Institute, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107, USA.


The c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinases (JNKs) have a role both in promoting apoptosis and tumorigenesis. The JNKs are encoded by three separate genes (JNK1, 2, and 3), which are spliced alternatively to create 10 JNK isoforms that are either M(r) 55,000 or 46,000 in size. However, the functional significance and distinct role for each splice variant remains unclear. We have noted previously that 86% of primary human glial tumors show activation of almost exclusively the M(r) 55,000 isoforms of JNK. To further study which isoforms are involved, we constructed glutathione S-transferase fusion proteins for all 10 JNK isoforms and examined kinase activity with or without the activating upstream kinase. Surprisingly, five JNK isoforms demonstrate autophosphorylation activity, and in addition, all four JNK2 isoforms (either M(r) 55,000 or 46,000) show a high basal level of substrate kinase activity in the absence of the upstream kinase, especially a M(r) 55,000 JNK2 isoform. Examination revealed autophosphorylation activity at the T-P-Y motif, which is critical for JNK activation, because a mutant lacking the dual phosphorylation sites did not show autophosphorylation or basal kinase activity. Using green fluorescence protein-JNK expression vectors, transient transfection into U87MG cells demonstrates that although the JNK1 isoforms localize predominantly to the cytoplasm, the JNK2 isoforms localize to the nucleus and are phosphorylated, confirming the constitutive activation seen in vitro. We then examined which JNK isoforms are active in glial tumors by performing two-dimensional electrophoresis. This revealed that the M(r) 55,000 isoforms of JNK2 are the principal active JNK isoforms present in tumors. Collectively, these results suggest that these constitutively active JNK isoforms play a significant role in glial tumors. Aside from epidermal growth factor receptor vIII, this is the only other kinase that has been shown to be basally active in glioma. The presence of constitutively active JNK isoforms may have implications for the design of inhibitors of the JNK pathway.

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