Background: The rsk1 gene encodes the 90 kDa ribosomal S6 kinase 1 (RSK1) protein, which contains two kinase domains. RSK1, which is involved in regulating cell survival and proliferation, lies at the end of the signaling cascade mediated by the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) subfamily of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases. ERK activation and subsequent phosphorylation of the RSK1 carboxy-terminal catalytic loop stimulates phosphotransferase activity in the RSK1 amino-terminal kinase domain. When activated, RSK1 phosphorylates both nuclear and cytoplasmic substrates through this amino-terminal catalytic domain. It is thought that stimulation of the ERK/MAP kinase pathway is sufficient for RSK1 activation, but how ERK phosphorylation activates the RSK1 amino-terminal kinase domain is not known.
Results: The individual isolated RSK1 kinase domains were found to be under regulatory control. In vitro kinase assays established that ERK phosphorylates RSK1 within the carboxy-terminal kinase domain, and the phosphoinositide-dependent kinase 1 (PDK1) phosphorylates RSK1 within the amino-terminal kinase domain. In transiently transfected HEK 293E cells, PDK1 alone stimulated phosphotransferase activity of an isolated RSK1 amino-terminal kinase domain. Nevertheless, activation of full-length RSK1 in the absence of serum required activation by both PDK1 and ERK.
Conclusions: RSK1 is phosphorylated by PDK1 in the amino-terminal kinase-activation loop, and by ERK in the carboxy-terminal kinase-activation loop. Activation of phosphotransferase activity of full-length RSK1 in vivo requires both PDK1 and ERK. RSK1 activation is therefore regulated by both the mitogen-stimulated ERK/MAP kinase pathway and a PDK1-dependent pathway.