c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK)1 and JNK2 have similar and stage-dependent roles in regulating T cell apoptosis and proliferation.
Apoptotic and mitogenic stimuli activate c-Jun NH2-terminal kinases (JNKs) in T cells. Although T cells express both JNK1 and JNK2 isozymes, the absence of JNK2 alone can result in resistance to anti-CD3-induced thymocyte apoptosis and defective mature T cell proliferation. Similar defects in thymocyte apoptosis and mature T cell proliferation, the latter due to reduced interleukin 2 production, are also caused by JNK1 deficiency. Importantly, T cell function was compromised in Jnk1(+/-)Jnk2(+/-) double heterozygous mice, indicating that JNK1 and JNK2 play similar roles in regulating T cell function. The reduced JNK dose results in defective c-Jun NH2-terminal phosphorylation in thymocytes but not in peripheral T cells, in which nuclear factors of activated T cells (NK-ATs)-DNA binding activity is affected. Thus, JNK1 and JNK2 control similar functions during T cell maturation through differential targeting of distinct substrates.