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How mitogen-activated protein kinases recognize and phosphorylate their targets: A QM/MM study

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Turjanski, A. G., Hummer, G., & Gutkind, J. S. (2009). How mitogen-activated protein kinases recognize and phosphorylate their targets: A QM/MM study. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 131(17), 6141-6148. doi:10.1021/ja8071995.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-4B53-8
Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways play an essential role in the transduction of environmental stimuli to the nucleus, thereby regulating a variety of cellular processes, including cell proliferation, differentiation, and programmed cell death. The components of the MAPK extracellular activated protein kinase (ERK) cascade represent attractive targets for cancer therapy, as their aberrant activation is a frequent event among highly prevalent human cancers. To understand how MAPKs recognize and phosphorylate their targets is key to unravel their function. However, these events are still poorly understood because of the lack of complex structures of MAPKs with their bound targets in the active site. Here we have modeled the interaction of ERK with a target peptide and analyzed the specificity toward Ser/Thr-Pro motifs. By using a quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) approach, we propose a mechanism for the phosphoryl transfer catalyzed by ERK that offers new insights into MAPK function. Our results suggest that (1) the proline residue has a role in both specificity and phospho transfer efficiency, (2) the reaction occurs in one step, with ERK2 Asp(147) acting as the catalytic base, (3) a conserved Lys in the kinase superfamily that is usually mutated to check kinase activity strongly stabilizes the transition state, and (4) the reaction mechanism is similar with either one or two Mg(2+) ions in the active site. Taken together, our results provide a detailed description of the molecular events involved in the phosphorylation reaction catalyzed by MAPK and contribute to the general understanding of kinase activity.