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Virology. 1996 Jan 1;215(1):31-9.

Mechanism of interferon action. Biochemical and genetic evidence for the intermolecular association of the RNA-dependent protein kinase PKR from human cells.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Interdepartmental Biochemistry, University of California, Santa Barbara 93106, USA.


The interferon-inducible protein kinase (PKR) is activated by an RNA-dependent autophosphorylation. Structure-function studies of the 551 amino acid PKR kinase from human cells have revealed that catalytic-deficient PKR mutants such as PKR(1-551)K296R display a dominant negative behavior when expressed in transfected cells. The potential for PKR to form protein multimers has therefore been examined. Three types of studies, including both genetic and biochemical analyses, demonstrated that PKR from human cells undergoes an intermolecular association that is not dependent upon RNA. First, the intermolecular association of PKR in vitro was demonstrated in the context of an enzyme-substrate interaction. Purified recombinant histidine-tagged PKR(1-551)K296R mutant protein was phosphorylated by purified wild-type PKR; this intermolecular phosphorylation of PKR was dependent on double-stranded RNA. At a fixed RNA concentration, high concentrations of the HIS-PKR(1-551)K296R mutant both impaired the autophosphorylation of wild-type PKR and blocked the trans-phosphorylation of itself. Second, the yeast two-hybrid system was used to probe the intermolecular association of PKR in vivo. Coexpression of the full-length catalytic-deficient phosphotransfer mutant PKR(1-551)K296R as a fusion protein with the Gal4 activation domain and the Gal4 DNA binding domain resulted in the expression of two Gal4-responsive reporter genes, HIS3 and lacZ. The full-length RNA-binding deficient PKR(1-551)K64E/K296R double mutant also interacted with PKR(1-551)K296R sufficiently to activate Gal4-responsive reporter genes; however, other PKR mutants including PKR(1-280)wt and PKR(281-551)K296R as well as p53, RAS, and BCL2 did not. Third, both PKR(1-551)K296R and PKR(1-551)K64E/K296R enhanced the expression of the reovirus S1 gene and S1/S4 chimeric gene in cotransfected COS cells. By contrast, the expression of the reovirus S4 gene was not enhanced by cotransfection with either PKR(1-551)K296R or PKR(1-551)K64E/K296R. These results indicate that PKR interacts with itself in an intermolecular manner both in vivo and in vitro, and that RNA binding is neither necessary nor sufficient for PKR multimerization.

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