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ACS Chem Biol. 2012 Feb 17;7(2):387-94. doi: 10.1021/cb2003237. Epub 2011 Dec 7.

Effects of ethanol on conformational changes of Akt studied by chemical cross-linking, mass spectrometry, and (18)O labeling.

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Laboratory of Molecular Signaling, DICBR, NIAAA, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-9410, United States.


Although PI3K/Akt signaling that regulates neuronal survival has been implicated in the deleterious effects of ethanol on the central nervous system, underlying molecular mechanisms have not been fully elucidated. Akt-membrane interaction is a prerequisite step for Akt activation since it induces interdomain conformational changes to an open conformer that allows Akt phosphorylation by upstream kinases. In this study, we investigated the effect of ethanol on Akt activation by quantitatively probing Akt conformation using chemical cross-linking, (18)O labeling and mass spectrometry. We found that ethanol at pharmacologically relevant concentrations (20 or 170 mM) directly interacts with Akt and alters the local pleckstrin homology domain configuration near the PIP(3)-binding site. We also found that ethanol significantly impairs subsequent membrane-induced interdomain conformational changes needed for Akt activation. The observed alteration of Akt conformation caused by ethanol during the activation sequence provides a new molecular basis for the effects of ethanol on Akt signaling. The in vitro conformation-based approach employed in this study should also be useful in probing the molecular mechanisms for the action of ethanol or drugs on other signaling proteins, particularly for those undergoing dramatic conformational change during activation processes such as members of AGC kinase super family.

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