Utilizing a genetic screen in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we identified a novel autoactivation region in mammalian MEK1 that is involved in binding the specific MEK inhibitor, PD 184352. The genetic screen is possible due to the homology between components of the yeast pheromone response pathway and the eukaryotic Raf-MEK-ERK signaling cascade. Using the FUS1::HIS3 reporter as a functional readout for activation of a reconstituted Raf-MEK-ERK signaling cascade, randomly mutagenized MEK variants that were insensitive to PD 184352 were obtained. Seven single-base-change mutations were identified, five of which mapped to kinase subdomains III and IV of MEK. Of the seven variants, only one, a leucine-to-proline substitution at amino acid 115 (Leu115Pro), was completely insensitive to PD 184352 in vitro (50% inhibitory concentration >10 micro M). However, all seven mutants displayed strikingly high basal activity compared to wild-type MEK. Overexpression of the MEK variants in HEK293T cells resulted in an increase in mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase phosphorylation, a finding consistent with the elevated basal activity of these constructs. Further, treatment with PD 184352 failed to inhibit Leu115Pro-stimulated MAP kinase activation in HEK293T cells, whereas all other variants had some reduction in phospho-MAP kinase levels. By using cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (1CDK) as a template, an MEK homology model was generated, with five of the seven identified residues clustered together, forming a potential hydrophobic binding pocket for PD 184352. Additionally, the model allowed identification of other potential residues that would interact with the inhibitor. Directed mutation of these residues supported this region's involvement with inhibitor binding.