BACKGROUND: Protein kinase Cs are a family of enzymes that transduce the plethora of signals promoting lipid hydrolysis. Here, we show that protein kinase C must first be processed by three distinct phosphorylations before it is competent to respond to second messengers. RESULTS: We have identified the positions and functions of the in vivo phosphorylation sites of protein kinase C by mass spectrometry and peptide sequencing of native and phosphatase-treated kinase from the detergent-soluble fraction of cells. Specifically, the threonine at position 500 (T500) on the activation loop, and T641 and S660 on the carboxyl terminus of protein kinase C beta II are phosphorylated in vivo. T500 and S660 are selectively dephosphorylated in vitro by protein phosphatase 2A to yield an enzyme that is still capable of lipid-dependent activation, whereas all three residues are dephosphorylated by protein phosphatase 1 to yield an inactive enzyme. Biochemical analysis reveals that protein kinase C autophosphorylates on S660, that autophosphorylation on S660 follows T641 autophosphorylation, that autophosphorylation on S660 is accompanied by the release of protein kinase C into the cytosol, and that T500 is not an autophosphorylation site. CONCLUSIONS: Structural and biochemical analyses of native and phosphatase-treated protein kinase C indicate that protein kinase C is processed by three phosphorylations. Firstly, trans-phosphorylation on the activation loop (T500) renders it catalytically competent to autophosphorylate. Secondly, a subsequent autophosphorylation on the carboxyl terminus (T641) maintains catalytic competence. Thirdly, a second autophosphorylation on the carboxyl terminus (S660) regulates the enzyme's subcellular localization. The conservation of each of these residues (or an acidic residue) in conventional, novel and atypical protein kinase Cs underscores the essential role for each in regulating the protein kinase C family.
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