ERK1 and ERK2 (ERK1/2) are central to the regulation of cell division, growth and survival. They are activated by phosphorylation of the Thr- and the Tyr- residues in their Thr-Glu-Tyr activation loops. The dogma is that dually-phosphorylated ERK1/2 constitute the principal activities in intact cells. We previously showed that, in neonatal rat cardiac myocytes, endothelin-1 and phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) powerfully and rapidly (maximal at ~ 5 min) activate ERK1/2. Here, we show that dually-phosphorylated ERK1/2 rapidly (< 2 min) appear in the nucleus following stimulation with endothelin-1. We characterized the active ERK1/2 species in myocytes exposed to endothelin-1 or PMA using MonoQ FPLC. Unexpectedly, two peaks of ERK1 and two peaks of ERK2 activity were resolved using in vitro kinase assays. One of each of these represented the dually-phosphorylated species. The other two represented activities for ERK1 or ERK2 which were phosphorylated solely on the Thr- residue. Monophosphothreonyl ERK1/2 represented maximally ~ 30% of total ERK1/2 activity after stimulation with endothelin-1 or PMA, and their kcat values were estimated to be minimally ~ 30% of the dually-phosphorylated species. Appearance of monophosphothreonyl ERK1/2 was rapid but delayed in comparison with dually-phosphorylated ERK1/2. Of 10 agonists studied, endothelin-1 and PMA were most effective in terms of ERK1/2 activation and in stimulating the appearance of monophosphothreonyl and dually-phosphorylated ERK1/2. Thus, enzymically active monophosphothreonyl ERK1/2 are formed endogenously following activation of the ERK1/2 cascade and we suggest that monophosphothreonyl ERK1/2 arise by protein tyrosine phosphatase-mediated dephosphorylation of dually-phosphorylated ERK1/2
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