Mixed lineage kinase 3 (MLK3) is a mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase (MAPKKK) that activates c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and can induce cell death in neurons. By contrast, the activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and AKT/protein kinase B (PKB) acts to suppress neuronal apoptosis. Here, we report a functional interaction between MLK3 and AKT1/PKBalpha. Endogenous MLK3 and AKT1 interact in HepG2 cells, and this interaction is regulated by insulin. The interaction domain maps to the C-terminal half of MLK3 (amino acids 511-847), and this region also contains a putative AKT phosphorylation consensus sequence. Endogenous JNK, MKK7, and MLK3 kinase activities in HepG2 cells are significantly attenuated by insulin treatment, whereas the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitors LY294002 and wortmannin reversed the effect. Finally, MLK3-mediated JNK activation is inhibited by AKT1. AKT phosphorylates MLK3 on serine 674 both in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, the expression of activated AKT1 inhibits MLK3-mediated cell death in a manner dependent on serine 674 phosphorylation. Thus, these data provide the first direct link between MLK3-mediated cell death and its regulation by a cell survival signaling protein, AKT1.
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