Background: Phosphorylation critically regulates the catalytic function of most members of the protein kinase superfamily. One such member, protein kinase C (PKC), contains two phosphorylation switches: a site on the activation loop that is phosphorylated by another kinase, and two autophosphorylation sites in the carboxyl terminus. For conventional PKC isozymes, the mature enzyme, which is present in the detergent-soluble fraction of cells, is quantitatively phosphorylated at the carboxy-terminal sites but only partially phosphorylated on the activation loop.
Results: This study identifies the recently discovered phosphoinositide-dependent kinase 1, PDK-1, as a regulator of the activation loop of conventional PKC isozymes. First, studies in vivo revealed that PDK-1 controls the amount of mature (carboxy-terminally phosphorylated) conventional PKC. More specifically, co-expression of the conventional PKC isoform PKC betaII with a catalytically inactive form of PDK-1 in COS-7 cells resulted in both the accumulation of non-phosphorylated PKC and a corresponding decrease in PKC activity. Second, studies in vitro using purified proteins established that PDK-1 specifically phosphorylates the activation loop of PKC alpha and betaII. The phosphorylation of the mature PKC enzyme did not modulate its basal activity or its maximal cofactor-dependent activity. Rather, the phosphorylation of non-phosphorylated enzyme by PDK-1 triggered carboxy-terminal phosphorylation of PKC, thus providing the first step in the generation of catalytically competent (mature) enzyme.
Conclusions: We have shown that PDK-1 controls the phosphorylation of conventional PKC isozymes in vivo. Studies performed in vitro establish that PDK-1 directly phosphorylates PKC on the activation loop, thereby allowing carboxy-terminal phosphorylation of PKC. These data suggest that phosphorylation of the activation loop by PDK-1 provides the first step in the processing of conventional PKC isozymes by phosphorylation.