MAPKKK dual leucine zipper-bearing kinases (DLKs) are regulators of synaptic development and axon regeneration. The mechanisms underlying their activation are not fully understood. Here, we show that C. elegans DLK-1 is activated by a Ca(2+)-dependent switch from inactive heteromeric to active homomeric protein complexes. We identify a DLK-1 isoform, DLK-1S, that shares identical kinase and leucine zipper domains with the previously described long isoform DLK-1L but acts to inhibit DLK-1 function by binding to DLK-1L. The switch between homo- or heteromeric DLK-1 complexes is influenced by Ca(2+) concentration. A conserved hexapeptide in the DLK-1L C terminus is essential for DLK-1 activity and is required for Ca(2+) regulation. The mammalian DLK-1 homolog MAP3K13 contains an identical C-terminal hexapeptide and can functionally complement dlk-1 mutants, suggesting that the DLK activation mechanism is conserved. The DLK activation mechanism is ideally suited for rapid and spatially controlled signal transduction in response to axonal injury and synaptic activity.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.