A mammalian homologue of GCN2 protein kinase important for translational control by phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor-2alpha

Genetics. 2000 Feb;154(2):787-801.


A family of protein kinases regulates translation in response to different cellular stresses by phosphorylation of the alpha subunit of eukaryotic initiation factor-2 (eIF-2alpha). In yeast, an eIF-2alpha kinase, GCN2, functions in translational control in response to amino acid starvation. It is thought that uncharged tRNA that accumulates during amino acid limitation binds to sequences in GCN2 homologous to histidyl-tRNA synthetase (HisRS) enzymes, leading to enhanced kinase catalytic activity. Given that starvation for amino acids also stimulates phosphorylation of eIF-2alpha in mammalian cells, we searched for and identified a GCN2 homologue in mice. We cloned three different cDNAs encoding mouse GCN2 isoforms, derived from a single gene, that vary in their amino-terminal sequences. Like their yeast counterpart, the mouse GCN2 isoforms contain HisRS-related sequences juxtaposed to the kinase catalytic domain. While GCN2 mRNA was found in all mouse tissues examined, the isoforms appear to be differentially expressed. Mouse GCN2 expressed in yeast was found to inhibit growth by hyperphosphorylation of eIF-2alpha, requiring both the kinase catalytic domain and the HisRS-related sequences. Additionally, lysates prepared from yeast expressing mGCN2 were found to phosphorylate recombinant eIF-2alpha substrate. Mouse GCN2 activity in both the in vivo and in vitro assays required the presence of serine-51, the known regulatory phosphorylation site in eIF-2alpha. Together, our studies identify a new mammalian eIF-2alpha kinase, GCN2, that can mediate translational control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA, Complementary
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2 / metabolism*
  • Histidine-tRNA Ligase / genetics
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • DNA, Complementary
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Protein Kinases
  • Eif2ak4 protein, mouse
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Histidine-tRNA Ligase