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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 13;5(12):e14310. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014310.

Co-conserved features associated with cis regulation of ErbB tyrosine kinases.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, United States of America.



The epidermal growth factor receptor kinases, or ErbB kinases, belong to a large sub-group of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), which share a conserved catalytic core. The catalytic core of ErbB kinases have functionally diverged from other RTKs in that they are activated by a unique allosteric mechanism that involves specific interactions between the kinase core and the flanking Juxtamembrane (JM) and COOH-terminal tail (C-terminal tail). Although extensive studies on ErbB and related tyrosine kinases have provided important insights into the structural basis for ErbB kinase functional divergence, the sequence features that contribute to the unique regulation of ErbB kinases have not been systematically explored.


In this study, we use a Bayesian approach to identify the selective sequence constraints that most distinguish ErbB kinases from other receptor tyrosine kinases. We find that strong ErbB kinase-specific constraints are imposed on residues that tether the JM and C-terminal tail to key functional regions of the kinase core. A conserved RIxKExE motif in the JM-kinase linker region and a glutamine in the inter-lobe linker are identified as two of the most distinguishing features of the ErbB family. While the RIxKExE motif tethers the C-terminal tail to the N-lobe of the kinase domain, the glutamine tethers the C-terminal tail to hinge regions critical for inter-lobe movement. Comparison of the active and inactive crystal structures of ErbB kinases indicates that the identified residues are conformationally malleable and can potentially contribute to the cis regulation of the kinase core by the JM and C-terminal tail. ErbB3, and EGFR orthologs in sponges and parasitic worms, diverge from some of the canonical ErbB features, providing insights into sub-family and lineage-specific functional specialization.


Our analysis pinpoints key residues for mutational analysis, and provides new clues to cancer mutations that alter the canonical modes of ErbB kinase regulation.

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