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J Biol Chem. 2003 Oct 3;278(40):38675-85. Epub 2003 Jul 9.

Caspase-activated PAK-2 is regulated by subcellular targeting and proteasomal degradation.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53226, USA.


p21-activated protein kinases (PAKs) are a family of serine/threonine protein kinases that are activated by binding of the p21 G proteins Cdc42 or Rac. The ubiquitous PAK-2 (gamma-PAK) is unique among the PAK isoforms because it is also activated through proteolytic cleavage by caspases or caspase-like proteases. In response to stress stimulants such as tumor necrosis factor alpha or growth factor withdrawal, PAK-2 is activated as a full-length enzyme and as a proteolytic PAK-2p34 fragment. Activation of full-length PAK-2 stimulates cell survival, whereas proteolytic activation of PAK-2p34 is involved in programmed cell death. Here we provide evidence that the proapoptotic effect of PAK-2p34 is regulated by subcellular targeting and degradation by the proteasome. Full-length PAK-2 is localized in the cytoplasm, whereas the proteolytic PAK-2p34 fragment translocates to the nucleus. Subcellular localization of PAK-2 is regulated by nuclear localization and nuclear export signal motifs. A nuclear export signal motif within the regulatory domain prevents nuclear localization of full-length PAK-2. Proteolytic activation removes most of the regulatory domain and disrupts the nuclear export signal. The activated PAK-2p34 fragment contains a nuclear localization signal and translocates to the nucleus. However, levels of activated PAK-2p34 are tightly regulated through ubiquitination and degradation by the proteasome. Inhibition of degradation by blocking polyubiquitination results in significantly increased levels of PAK-2p34 and as a consequence, in stimulation of programmed cell death. Therefore, nuclear targeting and inhibition of degradation appear to be critical for stimulation of the cell death response by PAK-2p34.

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