Protein kinase C-theta (PKCθ) is a key enzyme in T lymphocytes, where it plays an important role in signal transduction downstream of the activated T cell antigen receptor (TCR) and the CD28 costimulatory receptor. Interest in PKCθ as a potential drug target has increased following recent findings that PKCθ is essential for harmful inflammatory responses mediated by Th2 (allergies) and Th17 (autoimmunity) cells as well as for graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and allograft rejection, but is dispensable for beneficial responses such as antiviral immunity and graft-versus-leukemia (GvL) response. TCR/CD28 engagement triggers the translocation of the cytosolic PKCθ to the plasma membrane (PM), where it localizes at the center of the immunological synapse (IS), which forms at the contact site between an antigen-specific T cell and antigen-presenting cells (APC). However, the molecular basis for this unique localization, and whether it is required for its proper function have remained unresolved issues until recently. Our recent study resolved these questions by demonstrating that the unique V3 (hinge) domain of PKCθ and, more specifically, a proline-rich motif within this domain, is essential and sufficient for its localization at the IS, where it is anchored to the cytoplasmic tail of CD28 via an indirect mechanism involving Lck protein tyrosine kinase (PTK) as an intermediate. Importantly, the association of PKCθ with CD28 is essential not only for IS localization, but also for PKCθ-mediated activation of downstream signaling pathways, including the transcription factors NF-κB and NF-AT, which are essential for productive T cell activation. Hence, interference with formation of the PKCθ-Lck-CD28 complex provides a promising basis for the design of novel, clinically useful allosteric PKCθ inhibitors. An additional recent study demonstrated that TCR triggering activates the germinal center kinase (GSK)-like kinase (GLK) and induces its association with the SLP-76 adaptor at the IS, where GLK phosphorylates the activation loop of PKCθ, converting it into an active enzyme. This recent progress, coupled with the need to study the biology of PKCθ in human T cells, is likely to facilitate the development of PKCθ-based therapeutic modalities for T cell-mediated diseases.
Keywords: CD28; Lck; PKCθ; costimulation; protein kinase C-theta; signal transduction.