Activation of AtMEK1, an Arabidopsis mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase, in vitro and in vivo: analysis of active mutants expressed in E. coli and generation of the active form in stress response in seedlings

Plant J. 2002 Mar;29(5):637-47. doi: 10.1046/j.0960-7412.2001.01246.x.


The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade, consisting of MAPK, MAPK kinase (MAPKK) and MAPK kinase kinase (MAPKKK), is the signaling system that relays various external signals, including mitogens and stresses in eukaryotes. MAPKK is activated by phosphorylation in the consensus motif, SXXXS/T, in animals, but the regulation mechanism for the plant MAPKK by phosphorylation, having the putative phosphorylation motif of S/TXXXXXS/T, is not yet fully clarified. Here we constructed a series of mutants of AtMEK1, an Arabidopsis MAPKK, having the sequence T218-X-S220-X-X-X-S224 that fits both of the plant- and animal-type motifs. We show that the two double-mutant proteins replacing Thr-218/Ser-224 and Ser-220/Ser-224 by Glu expressed in Escherichia coli show a constitutive activity to phosphorylate the Thr and Tyr residues of the kinase-negative mutant of an Arabidopsis MAPK, named ATMPK4, in vitro. The mutation analysis of AtMEK1 replacing Thr-218 and Ser-220 to Ala suggested that Thr-218 is autophosphorylated by the enzyme. The wild-type ATMPK4 was also phosphorylated by the active mutants of AtMEK1 and showed a high protein kinase activity toward myelin basic proteins. In contrast, ATMPK3, another Arabidopsis MAPK, was a poor substrate of this plant MAPKK, indicating that AtMEK1 has a substrate specificity preferring ATMPK4 to ATMPK3, at least in vitro. Furthermore, AtMEK1 immunoprecipitated from Arabidopsis seedlings stimulated with wounding, cold, drought, and high salt showed an elevated protein kinase activity toward the kinase-negative ATMPK4, while the amounts of the AtMEK1 protein did not change significantly. These data indicate that the AtMEK1 becomes an active form through phosphorylation and activates its downstream target ATMPK4 in stress response in Arabidopsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Arabidopsis / enzymology*
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Escherichia coli
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Immunoblotting
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Phosphorylation
  • Plant Shoots / enzymology
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • AtMPK3 protein, Arabidopsis
  • AtMPK4 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1
  • MEK1 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases