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Virology. 1996 Jul 1;221(1):180-8.

Characterization of the heparin-mediated activation of PKR, the interferon-inducible RNA-dependent protein kinase.

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


Heparin can substitute for double-stranded (ds) RNA in the autophosphorylation and activation of the interferon-inducible, RNA-dependent elF-2 alpha protein kinase (PKR). We have used heparin oligosaccharides of defined lengths to examine the heparin-mediated activation of human PKR. Heparin oligosaccharide with 8 sugar residues was nearly as efficient as 16-residue heparin (Hep-16) in mediating the activation of PKR autophosphorylation, whereas 6-residue heparin was a poor activator. When examined in combination, Hep-16 and dsRNA did not act synergistically in activating PKR autophosphorylation. The RNA-binding activity of recombinant PKR, measured with adenovirus VA RNA, was competed by poly(rl):poly(rC) but not by Hep-16. When the catalytically inactive, histidine-tagged mutant PKR protein [His-PKR(K296R)] was examined as a substrate for purified wild-type PKR, the intermolecular phosphorylation of His-PKR(K296R) was efficiently catalyzed by dsRNA-activated PKR but not by heparin-activated PKR. However, elF-2 alpha phosphorylation was catalyzed by both heparin-and dsRNA-activated PKR. Preincubation of PKR with Hep-16 in the absence of ATP blocked subsequent autophosphorylation mediated either by Hep-16 or dsRNA, whereas preincubation with dsRNA either alone or in combination with Hep-16 did not impair subsequent autophosphorylation. Neither Hep-16 nor dsRNA caused a detectable degradation of PKR during preincubation or subsequent autophosphorylation of PKR. These results suggest that, while both dsRNA and heparin are capable of activating PKR autophosphorylation, the structural and functional basis of PKR activation differs for these two classes of polyanionic biomolecules.

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