[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Here we review some of our work over the last decade on Xenopus oocyte maturation, a cell fate switch, and the Xenopus embryonic cell cycle, a highly dynamical process. Our approach has been to start with wiring diagrams for the regulatory networks that underpin the processes; carry out quantitative experiments to describe the response functions for individual legs of the networks; and then construct simple analytical models based on chemical kinetic theory and the graphical rate-balance formalism. These studies support the view that the all-or-none, irreversible nature of oocyte maturation arises from a saddle-node bifurcation in the regulatory system that drives the process, and that the clock-like oscillations of the embryo are built upon a hysteretic switch with two saddle-node bifurcations. We believe that this type of reductionistic systems biology holds great promise for understanding complicated biochemical processes in simpler terms.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: During mitosis, a select pool of MEK1 and p42/p44 MAPK becomes activated at the kinetochores and spindle poles, without substantial activation of the bulk of the cytoplasmic p42/p44 MAPK. Recently, we set out to identify the MAP kinase kinase kinase (MAPKKK) responsible for this mitotic activation, using cyclin-treated Xenopus egg extracts as a model system, and presented evidence that Mos was the relevant MAPKKK . However, a second MAPKKK distinct from Mos was readily detectable as well. Here, we partially purify this second MAPKKK and identify it as B-Raf. No changes in the activity of B-Raf were detectable during progesterone-induced oocyte maturation, after egg fertilization, or during the early embryonic cell cycle, arguing against a role for B-Raf in the mitotic activation of MEK1 and p42 MAPK. Ras proteins can bring about activation of MEK1 and p42 MAPK in extracts, and Ras may contribute to signaling from the classical progesterone receptor during oocyte maturation and from receptor tyrosine kinases during early embryogenesis. We found that both B-Raf and C-Raf, but not Mos, are required for Ras-induced MEK1 and p42 MAPK activation. These data indicate that two upstream stimuli, active Ras and active Cdc2, utilize different MAPKKKs to activate MEK1 and p42 MAPK.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In addition to their activation via binding to cyclins, cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) can be activated via binding to a novel cell cycle regulator termed Speedy/Ringo, which shows no apparent similarity to cyclins. The first Speedy/Ringo protein was found to be essential for Xenopus oocyte maturation and a human homolog (Spy1, herein called Speedy/ Ringo A1) regulates S-phase entry and cell survival after DNA damage in cultured somatic cells. We have identified a Speedy/Ringo-like gene in the most primitive branching clade of chordates (Ciona intestinalis), as well as four mammalian homologs. Of the mammalian proteins, two, Speedy/Ringo A and C, bind to Cdc2 and Cdk2, whereas Speedy/Ringo B binds preferentially to Cdc2. Despite their distinct CDK-binding preferences, both Speedy/Ringo A and B can promote the maturation of Xenopus oocytes and all three Speedy/Ringo proteins can bind to and activate CDKs in vivo. These mammalian Speedy/Ringo proteins exhibit distinct tissue expression patterns, though all three are enriched in testis, consistent with the initial observation that Xenopus Speedy/Ringo functions during meiosis. Speedy/Ringo A is widely expressed in tissues and cell lines. Speedy/Ringo B expression appears to be testis-specific. Speedy/Ringo C is expressed in diverse tissues, particularly those that undergo polyploidization. All Speedy/Ringo proteins share a highly conserved approximately 140-aa domain we term the Speedy/Ringo box that is essential for CDK binding. Point mutations in this domain abolish CDK binding. Besides the central Speedy/Ringo box, Speedy/Ringo A contains a C-terminal portion, which promotes CDK activation, and an N-terminal portion, which is dispersible for both CDK binding and activation but that influences protein expression. The existence of this growing family of CDK activators suggests that Speedy/Ringo proteins may play as complex a role in cell cycle control as the diverse family of cyclins.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The maturation of Xenopus oocytes can be thought of as a process of cell fate induction, with the immature oocyte representing the default fate and the mature oocyte representing the induced fate. Crucial mediators of Xenopus oocyte maturation, including the p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and the cell-division cycle protein kinase Cdc2, are known to be organized into positive feedback loops. In principle, such positive feedback loops could produce an actively maintained 'memory' of a transient inductive stimulus and could explain the irreversibility of maturation. Here we show that the p42 MAPK and Cdc2 system normally generates an irreversible biochemical response from a transient stimulus, but the response becomes transient when positive feedback is blocked. Our results explain how a group of intrinsically reversible signal transducers can generate an irreversible response at a systems level, and show how a cell fate can be maintained by a self-sustaining pattern of protein kinase activation.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Xenopus oocyte maturation is an example of an all-or-none, irreversible cell fate induction process. In response to a submaximal concentration of the steroid hormone progesterone, a given oocyte may either mature or not mature, but it can exist in intermediate states only transiently. Moreover, once an oocyte has matured, it will remain arrested in the mature state even after the progesterone is removed. It has been hypothesized that the all-or-none character of oocyte maturation, and some aspects of the irreversibility of maturation, arise out of the bistability of the signal transduction system that triggers maturation. The bistability, in turn, is hypothesized to arise from the way the signal transducers are organized into a signaling circuit that includes positive feedback (which makes it so that the system cannot rest in intermediate states) and ultrasensitivity (which filters small stimuli out of the feedback loop, allowing the system to have a stable off-state). Here we review two simple graphical methods that are commonly used to analyze bistable systems, discuss the experimental evidence for bistability in oocyte maturation, and suggest that bistability may be a common means of producing all-or-none responses and a type of biochemical memory. (c) 2001 American Institute of Physics.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) are members of the mitogen-activated protein kinase family that play critical roles in stress responses and apoptosis. We have discovered that JNK is present in Xenopus oocytes, an experimental system that offers a variety of powerful experimental approaches to questions of protein function and regulation. Like ERK2/p42 MAPK, JNK is activated just prior to germinal vesicle breakdown during Xenopus oocyte maturation and remains active throughout meiosis I and II. However, unlike p42 MAPK, which is inactivated about 30 min after eggs are fertilized or parthenogenetically activated, JNK stays constitutively active until the early gastrula stage of embryogenesis. These findings suggest that the JNK pathway may play a role in oocyte maturation and embryogenesis. JNK was activated by microinjection of Mos, by activation of an estrogen-inducible form of Raf, and by a constitutively active MEK-1 (MEK R4F), indicating that the p42 MAPK cascade can trigger JNK activation. However, the MEK inhibitor U0126 blocked progesterone-induced p42 MAPK activation but not progesterone-induced JNK activation. Thus, progesterone can stimulate JNK activation both through the MEK/p42 MAPK pathway and through MEK/p42 MAPK-independent pathways. Many of the key substrates of JNKs identified to date are transcriptional regulators. However, since transcription is not required for germinal vesicle breakdown in progesterone-treated oocytes or for the early embryonic cell cycles, our findings suggest that in these contexts the JNK pathway exerts nongenomic effects.