Various members of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor superfamily activate nuclear factor kappaB (NF-kappaB) and the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathways through their interaction with TNF receptor-associated factors (TRAFs) and NF-kappaB-inducing kinase (NIK). We have previously shown that the cytoplasmic domain of receptor activator of NF-kappaB (RANK) interacts with TRAF2, TRAF5, and TRAF6 and that its overexpression activates NF-kappaB and JNK pathways. Through a detailed mutational analysis of the cytoplasmic domain of RANK, we demonstrate that TRAF2 and TRAF5 bind to consensus TRAF binding motifs located in the C terminus at positions 565-568 and 606-611, respectively. In contrast, TRAF6 interacts with a novel motif located between residues 340 and 358 of RANK. Furthermore, transfection experiments with RANK and its deletion mutants in human embryonic 293 cells revealed that the TRAF6-binding region (340-358), but not the TRAF2 or TRAF5-binding region, is necessary and sufficient for RANK-induced NF-kappaB activation. Moreover, a kinase mutant of NIK (NIK-KM) inhibited RANK-induced NF-kappaB activation. However, RANK-mediated JNK activation required a distal portion (427-603) of RANK containing the TRAF2-binding domain. Thus, our results indicate that RANK interacts with various TRAFs through distinct motifs and activates NF-kappaB via a novel TRAF6 interaction motif, which then activates NIK, thus leading to NF-kappaB activation, whereas RANK most likely activates JNK through a TRAF2-interacting region in RANK.
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