The Ser/Thr SAD kinases are evolutionarily conserved, critical regulators of neural development. Exciting findings in recent years have significantly advanced our understanding of the mechanism through which SAD kinases regulate neural development. Mammalian SAD-A and SAD-B, activated by a master kinase LKB1, regulate microtubule dynamics and polarize neurons. In C. elegans, the sad-1 gene encodes two isoforms, namely the long and the short, which exhibit overlapping and yet distinct functions in neuronal polarity and synaptic organization. Surprisingly, our most recent findings in C. elegans revealed a SAD-1-independent LKB1 activity in neuronal polarity. We also found that the long SAD-1 isoform directly interacts with a STRADalpha pseudokinase, STRD-1, to regulate neuronal polarity and synaptic organization. We elaborate here a working model of SAD-1 in which the two isoforms dimer/oligomerize to form a functional complex, and STRD-1 clusters and localizes the SAD-1 complex to synapses. While the mechanistic difference between the vertebrate and invertebrate SAD kinases may be puzzling, a recent discovery of the functionally distinct SAD-B isoforms predicts that the difference likely arises from our incomplete understanding of the SAD kinase mechanism and may eventually be reconciled as the revelation continues.
Keywords: C. elegans; SAD kinases; SAD-1; isoform; neural development; neuronal polarity; synapse.