Protein kinases of the DYRK (‘dual-specificity tyrosine-regulated kinase’) family are characterized by a conserved Tyr-Xaa-Tyr motif (Tyr-319–Tyr-321) in a position exactly corresponding to the activation motif of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase) family (Thr-Xaa-Tyr). In a molecular model of the catalytic domain of DYRK1A, the orientation of phosphorylated Tyr-321 is strikingly similar to that of Tyr-185 in the known structure of the activated MAP kinase, extracellular-signal-regulated kinase 2. Consistent with our model, substitution of Tyr-321 but not of Tyr-319 by phenylalanine markedly reduced the enzymic activity of recombinant DYRK1A expressed in either Escherichia coli or mammalian cells. Direct identification of phosphorylated residues by tandem MS confirmed that Tyr-321, but not Tyr-319, was phosphorylated. When expressed in COS-7 cells, DYRK1A was found to be fully phosphorylated on Tyr-321. A catalytically inactive mutant of DYRK1A contained no detectable phosphotyrosine, indicating that Tyr-321 is autophosphorylated by DYRK1A. MS identified Tyr-111 and Ser-97 as additional autophosphorylation sites in the non-catalytic N-terminal domain of bacterially expressed DYRK1A. Enzymic activity was not affected in the DYRK1A-Y111F mutant. The present experimental data and the molecular model indicate that the activity of DYRK1A is dependent on the autophosphorylation of a conserved tyrosine residue in the activation loop.

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