Autophosphorylation in the activation loop is required for full kinase activity in vivo of human and yeast eukaryotic initiation factor 2α kinases PKR and GCN2

Patrick R. Romano, Minerva T. Garcia-Barrio, Xiaolong Zhang, Qizhi Wang, Deborah R. Taylor, Fan Zhang, Christopher Herring, Michael B. Mathews, Jun Qin, Alan G. Hinnebusch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Scopus citations


The human double-stranded RNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR) is an important component of the interferon response to virus infection. The activation of PKR is accompanied by autophosphorylation at multiple sites, including one in the N-terminal regulatory region (Thr-258) that is required for full kinase activity. Several protein kinases are activated by phosphorylation in the region between kinase subdomains VII and VIII, referred to as the activation loop. We show that Thr-446 and Thr-451 in the PKR activation loop are required in vivo and in vitro for high-level kinase activity. Mutation of either residue to Ala impaired translational control by PKR in yeast cells and COS1 cells and led to tumor formation in mice. These mutations also impaired autophosphorylation and eukaryotic initiation factor 2 subunit α (eIF2α) phosphorylation by PKR in vitro. Whereas the Ala-446 substitution substantially reduced PKR function, the mutant kinase containing Ala-451 was completely inactive. PKR specifically phosphorylated Thr-446 and Thr-451 in synthetic peptides in vitro, and mass spectrometry analysis of PKR phosphopeptides confirmed that Thr-446 is an autophosphorylation site in vivo. Substitution of Glu-490 in subdomain X of PKR partially restored kinase activity when combined with the Ala-451 mutation. This finding suggests that the interaction between subdomain X and the activation loop, described previously for MAP kinase, is a regulatory feature conserved in PKR. We found that the yeast eIF2α kinase GCN2 autophosphorylates at Thr-882 and Thr-887, located in the activation loop at exactly the same positions as Thr-446 and Thr-451 in PKR. Thr-887 was more critically required than was Thr-882 for GCN2 kinase activity, paralleling the relative importance of Thr-446 and Thr- 451 in PKR. These results indicate striking similarities between GCN2 and PKR in the importance of autophosphorylation and the conserved Thr residues in the activation loop.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2282-2297
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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