Long-range signaling by phosphoprotein waves arising from bistability in protein kinase cascades

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Publication Date

November 2006


This article was published in Molecular Systems Biology 2: 61, November 2006. It is freely available from the publisher at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/msb4100108.


A hallmark of protein kinase/phosphatase cascades, including mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways, is the spatial separation of their components within cells. The top-level kinase, MAP3K, is phosphorylated at the cell membrane, and cytoplasmic kinases at sequential downstream levels (MAP2K and MAPK) spread the signal to distant targets. Given measured protein diffusivity and phosphatase activities, signal propagation by diffusion would result in a steep decline of MAP2K activity and low bisphosphorylated MAPK (ppMAPK) levels near the nucleus, especially in large cells, such as oocytes. Here, we show that bistability in a two-site MAPK (de)phosphorylation cycle generates a novel type of phosphoprotein wave that propagates from the surface deep into the cell interior. Positive feedback from ppMAPK to cytoplasmic MAP2K enhances the propagation span of the ppMAPK wave, making it possible to convey phosphorylation signals over exceedingly long distances. The finding of phosphorylation waves traveling with constant amplitude and high velocity may solve a long-standing enigma of survival signaling in developing neurons.

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