Rationale: p38 is an important stress activated protein kinase involved in gene regulation, proliferation, differentiation, and cell death regulation in heart. p38 kinase activity can be induced through canonical pathway via upstream kinases or by noncanonical autophosphorylation. The intracellular p38 kinase activity is tightly regulated and maintained at low level under basal condition. The underlying regulatory mechanism for canonical p38 kinase activation is well-studied, but the regulation of noncanonical p38 autophosphorylation remains poorly understood.
Objective: We investigated the molecular basis for the regulation of noncanonical p38 autophosphorylation and its potential functional impact in cardiomyocytes.
Methods and results: Using both proteomic and biochemical tools, we established that heat shock protein (Hsp)90-Cdc37 chaperones are part of the p38alpha signaling complex in mammalian cells both in vitro and in vivo. The Hsp90-Cdc37 chaperone complex interacts with p38 via direct binding between p38 and Cdc37. Cdc37 expression is both sufficient and necessary to suppress noncanonical p38 activation via autophosphorylation at either basal state or under TAB1 (TAK1 binding protein-1) induction. In contrast, Cdc37 expression has no impact on p38 activation by canonical upstream kinase MKK3 or oxidative stress. Furthermore, Hsp90 inhibition results in p38 activation via autophosphorylation, and p38 activity contribute to apoptotic cell death induced by Hsp90 inhibition.
Conclusion: Our study has revealed a so far uncharacterized function of Hsp90-Cdc37 as an endogenous regulator of noncanonical p38 activity.