Background: A growing number of kinases are now known to be controlled by two phosphorylation switches, one on a loop near the entrance to the active site and a second on the carboxyl terminus. For the protein kinase C (PKC) family of enzymes, phosphorylation at the activation loop is mediated by another kinase but the mechanism for carboxy-terminal phosphorylation is still unclear. The latter switch contains two phosphorylation sites - one on a 'turn' motif and the second on a conserved hydrophobic phosphorylation motif - that are found separately or together in a number of other kinases.
Results: Here, we investigated whether the carboxy-terminal phosphorylation sites of a conventional PKC are controlled by autophosphorylation or by another kinase. First, kinetic analyses revealed that a purified construct of the kinase domain of PKC betaII autophosphorylated on the Ser660 residue of the hydrophobic phosphorylation motif in an apparently concentration-independent manner. Second, kinase-inactive mutants of PKC did not incorporate phosphate at either of the carboxy-terminal sites, Thr641 or Ser660, when expressed in COS-7 cells. The inability to incorporate phosphate on the hydrophobic site was unrelated to the phosphorylation state of the other key phosphorylation sites: kinase-inactive mutants with negative charge at Thr641 and/or the activation-loop position were also not phosphorylated in vivo.
Conclusions: PKC betaII autophosphorylates at its conserved carboxy-terminal hydrophobic phosphorylation site by an apparently intramolecular mechanism. Expression studies with kinase-inactive mutants revealed that this mechanism is the only one responsible for phosphorylating this motif in vivo. Thus, conventional PKC autoregulates the carboxy-terminal phosphorylation switch following phosphorylation by another kinase at the activation loop switch.