The NF-kappa B activation pathway: a paradigm in information transfer from membrane to nucleus

Sci STKE. 1999 Oct 26;1999(5):RE1. doi: 10.1126/stke.1999.5.re1.


Nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappaB)/Rel proteins are dimeric, sequence-specific transcription factors involved in the activation of an exceptionally large number of genes in response to inflammation, viral and bacterial infections, and other stressful situations requiring rapid reprogramming of gene expression. In unstimulated cells, NF-kappaB is sequestered in an inactive form in the cytoplasm bound to inhibitory IkappaB proteins. Stimulation leads to the rapid phosphorylation, ubiquitinylation, and ultimately proteolytic degradation of IkappaB, which frees NF-kappaB to translocate to the nucleus and activate the transcription of its target genes. The multisubunit IkappaB kinase (IKK) responsible for the inducible phosphorylation of IkappaB appears to be the initial point of convergence for most stimuli that activate NF-kappaB. IKK contains two catalytic subunits, IKKalpha and IKKbeta, both of which phosphorylate IkappaB at sites phosphorylated in vivo. Gene knockout studies indicate that IKKbeta is primarily responsible for the activation of NF-kappaB in response to proinflammatory stimuli, whereas IKKalpha is essential for keratinocyte differentiation. The activity of IKK is regulated by phosphorylation. IKK contains a regulatory subunit, IKKgamma, which is critical for activation of IKK and is postulated to serve as a recognition site for upstream activators. When phosphorylated, the IKK recognition site on IkappaBalpha serves as a specific recognition site for the kappa-TrCP-like component of a Skp1-Cullin-F-box-type E3 ubiquitin-protein ligase. A variety of other signaling events, including phosphorylation of NF-kappaB, phosphorylation of IKK, new synthesis of IkappaBs, and the processing of NF-kappaB precursors provide mechanisms of modulating the amount and duration of NF-kappaB activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • NF-kappa B / chemistry
  • NF-kappa B / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • NF-kappa B