Functional isoforms of IkappaB kinase alpha (IKKalpha) lacking leucine zipper and helix-loop-helix domains reveal that IKKalpha and IKKbeta have different activation requirements

Mol Cell Biol. 2000 Apr;20(8):2635-49. doi: 10.1128/MCB.20.8.2635-2649.2000.


The activity of the NF-kappaB family of transcription factors is regulated principally by phosphorylation and subsequent degradation of their inhibitory IkappaB subunits. Site-specific serine phosphorylation of IkappaBs by two IkappaB kinases (IKKalpha [also known as CHUK] and IKKbeta) targets them for proteolysis. IKKalpha and -beta have a unique structure, with an amino-terminal serine-threonine kinase catalytic domain and carboxy-proximal helix-loop-helix (HLH) and leucine zipper-like (LZip) amphipathic alpha-helical domains. Here, we describe the properties of two novel cellular isoforms of IKKalpha: IKKalpha-DeltaH and IKKalpha-DeltaLH. IKKalpha-DeltaH and IKKalpha-DeltaLH are differentially spliced isoforms of the IKKalpha mRNA lacking its HLH domain and both its LZip and HLH domains, respectively. IKKalpha is the major RNA species in most murine cells and tissues, except for activated T lymphocytes and the brain, where the alternatively spliced isoforms predominate. Remarkably, IKKalpha-DeltaH and IKKalpha-DeltaLH, like IKKalpha, respond to tumor necrosis factor alpha stimulation to potentiate NF-kappaB activation in HEK293 cells. A mutant, catalytically inactive form of IKKalpha blocked IKKalpha-, IKKalpha-DeltaH-, and IKKalpha-DeltaLH-mediated NF-kappaB activation. Akin to IKKalpha, its carboxy-terminally truncated isoforms associated with the upstream activator NIK (NF-kappaB-inducing kinase). In contrast to IKKalpha, IKKalpha-DeltaLH failed to associate with either itself, IKKalpha, IKKbeta, or NEMO-IKKgamma-IKKAP1, while IKKalpha-DeltaH complexed with IKKbeta and IKKalpha but not with NEMO. Interestingly, each IKKalpha isoform rescued HEK293 cells from the inhibitory effects of a dominant-negative NEMO mutant, while IKKalpha could not. IKKalpha-DeltaCm, a recombinant mutant of IKKalpha structurally akin to IKKalpha-DeltaLH, was equally functional in these assays, but in sharp contrast, IKKbeta-DeltaCm, a structurally analogous mutant of IKKbeta, was inactive. Our results demonstrate that the functional roles of seemingly analogous domains in IKKalpha and IKKbeta need not be equivalent and can also exhibit different contextual dependencies. The existence of cytokine-inducible IKKalpha-DeltaH and IKKalpha-DeltaLH isoforms illustrates potential modes of NF-kappaB activation, which are not subject to the same in vivo regulatory constraints as either IKKalpha or IKKbeta.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line
  • Enzyme Activation / genetics
  • Helix-Loop-Helix Motifs
  • Humans
  • I-kappa B Kinase
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Leucine Zippers
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics*
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Isoenzymes
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • CHUK protein, human
  • I-kappa B Kinase
  • IKBKB protein, human
  • IKBKE protein, human