Background: Non-receptor protein-tyrosine kinases often contain at least one Src homology 2 (SH2) domain, a protein module that binds with high affinity to tyrosine-phosphorylated peptides. Because SH2 domains would be predicted to bind with high affinity to proteins phosphorylated by the kinase, but not to the unphosphorylated substrate, their presence in tyrosine kinases has been puzzling. An important role for the SH2 domain of the Abl tyrosine kinase was suggested by work showing that Abl requires an intact SH2 domain in order to malignantly transform cells, and that replacement of the Abl SH2 domain with heterologous SH2 domains alters the spectrum of proteins phosphorylated detectably by Abl in vivo.
Results: We have used purified wild-type and mutant Abl kinases to examine the roles of the Abl's SH2 and catalytic domains in phosphorylation of p130CAS, a model substrate that has multiple potential phosphorylation sites. We find that an SH2 domain is required for efficient hyperphosphorylation of p130 in vitro. We use chimeric mutants with heterologous SH2 domains to demonstrate that the SH2 domain of the oncogenically transforming adaptor protein Crk, which is the SH2 domain predicted to bind with highest affinity (of those tested) to potential phosphorylation sites in p130, is best able to facilitate hyperphosphorylation. This is the case whether the catalytic domain of the kinase is derived from Abl or from its distant relative, Src. These studies also reveal a role for binding of Crk to Abl in mediating phosphorylation by the kinase. Using purified proteins, we demonstrate that association with Crk strikingly enhances the ability of Abl to hyperphosphorylate p130. There is an excellent correlation between the ability of mutant Crk proteins to promote hyperphosphorylation of p130 by Abl and their ability to transform rodent fibroblasts.
Conclusion: Our data suggest that, ultimately, the substrate specificity of a non-receptor tyrosine kinase is dependent on the binding specificity of its associated SH2 domain. The SH2 domain binds tightly to a subset of proteins phosphorylated by the catalytic domain, leading to processive phosphorylation of those proteins. Substrate specificity can be broadened by an association between the kinase and proteins, such as Crk, that contain additional SH2 domains; this may play a role in malignant transformation by Crk.