The cellular response to DNA damage is mediated by evolutionarily conserved Ser/Thr kinases, phosphorylation of Cdc25 protein phosphatases, binding to 14-3-3 proteins, and exit from the cell cycle. To investigate DNA damage responses mediated by the p38/stress-activated protein kinase (SAPK) axis of signaling, the optimal phosphorylation motifs of mammalian p38alpha SAPK and MAPKAP kinase-2 were determined. The optimal substrate motif for MAPKAP kinase-2, but not for p38 SAPK, closely matches the 14-3-3 binding site on Cdc25B/C. We show that MAPKAP kinase-2 is directly responsible for Cdc25B/C phosphorylation and 14-3-3 binding in vitro and in response to UV-induced DNA damage within mammalian cells. Downregulation of MAPKAP kinase-2 eliminates DNA damage-induced G2/M, G1, and intra S phase checkpoints. We propose that MAPKAP kinase-2 is a new member of the DNA damage checkpoint kinase family that functions in parallel with Chk1 and Chk2 to integrate DNA damage signaling responses and cell cycle arrest in mammalian cells.
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