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J Biol Chem. 1998 Sep 4;273(36):23433-9.

Different molecular mechanisms for Rho family GTPase-dependent, Ca2+-independent contraction of smooth muscle.

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Department of Biochemistry, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada.


Abnormal smooth muscle contraction may contribute to diseases such as asthma and hypertension. Alterations to myosin light chain kinase or phosphatase change the phosphorylation level of the 20-kDa myosin regulatory light chain (MRLC), increasing Ca2+ sensitivity and basal tone. One Rho family GTPase-dependent kinase, Rho-associated kinase (ROK or p160(ROCK)) can induce Ca2+-independent contraction of Triton-skinned smooth muscle by phosphorylating MRLC and/or myosin light chain phosphatase. We show that another Rho family GTPase-dependent kinase, p21-activated protein kinase (PAK), induces Triton-skinned smooth muscle contracts independently of calcium to 62 +/- 12% (n = 10) of the value observed in presence of calcium. Remarkably, PAK and ROK use different molecular mechanisms to achieve the Ca2+-independent contraction. Like ROK and myosin light chain kinase, PAK phosphorylates MRLC at serine 19 in vitro. However, PAK-induced contraction correlates with enhanced phosphorylation of caldesmon and desmin but not MRLC. The level of MRLC phosphorylation remains similar to that in relaxed muscle fibers (absence of GST-mPAK3 and calcium) even as the force induced by GST-mPAK3 increases from 26 to 70%. Thus, PAK uncouples force generation from MRLC phosphorylation. These data support a model of PAK-induced contraction in which myosin phosphorylation is at least complemented through regulation of thin filament proteins. Because ROK and PAK homologues are present in smooth muscle, they may work in parallel to regulate smooth muscle contraction.

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