Dissecting Activation of the PAK1 Kinase at Protrusions in Living Cells

Institut Curie, Centre de Recherche, Paris, France.
Journal of Biological Chemistry (Impact Factor: 4.57). 08/2009; 284(36):24133-43. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M109.015271
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The p21-activated kinase (PAK) 1 kinase, an effector of the Cdc42 and Rac1 GTPases, regulates cell protrusions and motility by controlling actin and adhesion dynamics. Its deregulation has been linked to human cancer. We show here that activation of PAK1 is necessary for protrusive activity during cell spreading. To investigate PAK1 activation dynamics at live protrusions, we developed a conformational biosensor, based on fluorescence resonance energy transfer. This novel PAK1 biosensor allowed the spatiotemporal visualization of PAK1 activation during spreading of COS-7 cells and during motility of normal rat kidney cells. By using this imaging approach in COS-7 cells, the following new insights on PAK1 regulation were unveiled. First, PAK1 acquires an intermediate semi-open conformational state upon recruitment to the plasma membrane. This semi-open PAK1 species is selectively autophosphorylated on serines in the N-terminal regulatory region but not on the critical threonine 423 in the catalytic site. Second, this intermediate PAK1 state is hypersensitive to stimulation by Cdc42 and Rac1. Third, interaction with PIX proteins contributes to PAK1 stimulation at membrane protrusions, in a GTPase-independent way. Finally, trans-phosphorylation events occur between PAK1 molecules at the membrane possibly playing a relevant role for its activation. This study leads to a model for the complex and accurate regulation of PAK1 kinase in vivo at cell protrusions.

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