Since the studies on tyrosine phosphorylation of calmodulin by the insulin receptor kinase in vitro suggested that protamine and poly(L-lysine) may activate phosphorylation of the receptor beta subunit [Sacks & McDonald (1988) J. Biol. Chem. 263, 2377-2383], we examined the effects of a variety of basic polycations/proteins and polyamines on insulin receptor kinase activity. The insulin receptor purified from human placental membranes was incubated with each basic polycation/protein or polyamine and assayed for tyrosine-specific protein kinase activity by measuring 32P incorporation into the src-related peptide. At a concentration of 1 microM, poly(L-lysine) and poly(L-ornithine) markedly stimulated kinase activity, whereas poly(L-arginine) and histones H1 and H2B inhibited insulin receptor kinase. In contrast, at a concentration of 1 mM, three polyamines (spermine, spermidine and putrescine) did not alter kinase activity. Poly(L-lysine) and poly(L-ornithine) stimulated the insulin receptor kinase by 5-10-fold at concentrations of 0.1-1 microM. Protamine sulphate also showed a significant stimulatory effect at a concentration of 100 microM. Preincubation of the receptor with poly(L-lysine) or poly(L-ornithine) for 20-60 min resulted in maximal kinase activation. Poly(L-lysine), the most effective activator of the receptor kinase, was used to characterize further the mechanisms of the kinase activation. Poly(L-lysine) activates the insulin receptor kinase by increasing the Vmax. without changing the Km. Poly(L-lysine) markedly stimulates the kinase activity of insulin receptor preparations that have lost both basal kinase activity and the ability to be stimulated by insulin. Insulin and poly(L-lysine) also differed in their ability to stimulate the kinase activity of prephosphorylated receptors. Prephosphorylation of the receptors did not affect the stimulation of the kinase by insulin. In contrast, prephosphorylation of receptors resulted in a markedly enhanced ability of poly(L-lysine) to stimulate kinase activity. These studies suggest that the mechanisms by which poly(L-lysine) and insulin activate the kinase are different. In conjunction with other additional evidence, it is suggested that poly(L-lysine) interacts directly with the beta-subunit of the receptor, thereby activating the receptor kinase.

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