Genetic studies in Caenorhabditis elegans identified an evolutionarily conserved CED-2 (CrkII), CED-5 (DOCK180), CED-12 (ELMO), CED-10 (Rac1) module important for cell migration and phagocytosis of apoptotic cells. Previous studies have shown that DOCK180 and ELMO comprise an unconventional bipartite Dbl homology domain-independent Rac guanine nucleotide exchange factor (Rac-GEF); but it is still unclear how CrkII functions in Rac-GEF activity. In this study, we have characterized a unique function of CrkII in phagocytosis and Rac activation mediated by the C-terminal SH3 domain, a region of CrkII that has no clear cellular or biochemical function. We found that mutations that disrupt the C-terminal SH3 domain of CrkII (CrkII-SH3-C) abrogate engulfment of apoptotic cells and impair cell spreading on extracellular matrix. Surprisingly, despite the effects on engulfment, W276K CrkII strongly potentiated Rac-GTP loading when ectopically expressed in HEK 293T cells. Contrary to the effects of the true dominant negative SH2 domain mutants (R38K CrkII) and SH3-N domain mutants (W170K CrkII) that prevent macromolecular assembly of signaling proteins, W276K CrkII increases association between DOCK180 and CrkII as well as constitutive tethering of the Crk/DOCK180/ELMO protein complex that interacted with RhoG. Our results indicate that while N-terminal SH3 of CrkII promotes assembly between CrkII and DOCK180, the C-terminal SH3 of CrkII regulates the stability and turnover of the DOCK180/ELMO complex. Studies with W276K CrkII may offer a unique opportunity to study the structure and function of the DOCK180/ELMO Rac-GEF.
(c) 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.