Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades control gene expression patterns in response to extracellular stimuli. MAPK/ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) kinases (MEKs) activate MAPKs by phosphorylating them; activated MAPKs, in turn, phosphorylate target transcription factors, and are deactivated by phosphatases. One mechanism for maintaining signal specificity and efficiency is the interaction of MAPKs with their substrates and regulators through high-affinity docking sites. In the present study, we show that peptides corresponding to the MAPK-docking sites of MEK1, MEK2, Ste7, Elk-1 and MAPK phosphatase (MKP)-2 potently inhibit MEK2 phosphorylation of ERK2, ERK2 phosphorylation of Elk-1, and MKP-1 dephosphorylation of ERK2. Each peptide inhibited multiple reactions; for example, the MEK2 peptide inhibited not only MEK2, but also ERK2 and MKP-1. In addition, these docking-site peptides inhibited MEK2—ERK2 binding. The MAPK-docking site of MEK1 also potently stimulated ERK2-mediated phosphorylation of a target site on the same peptide. Control peptides with mutations of conserved basic and hydrophobic residues of the MAPK-docking site consensus lacked biological activity. We conclude that MEKs, MKPs and the Elk-1 transcription factor compete for binding to the same region of ERK2 via protein—protein interactions that are crucial for kinase/phosphatase activity.
Abbreviations used: CD, conserved docking; ERK, extracellular-signal-regulated kinase; GST, glutathione S-transferase; MAPK, mitogen-activated protein kinase; MAPKAPK, MAPK-activated protein kinase; MEK, MAPK/ERK kinase; MEKK, MEK kinase; MKK, MAPK kinase; MKP, MAPK phosphatase.