Protein kinase

A protein kinase is an enzyme that modifies other proteins by chemically adding phosphate groups to them (phosphorylation). This usually results in a functional change of the target protein (substrate), by changing enzyme activity, cellular location or association with other proteins. Up to 30% of all proteins may be modified by kinase activity, and kinases are known to regulate the majority of cellular pathways, especially those involved in signal transduction, the transmission of signals within the cell. The human genome contains about 500 protein kinase genes; they constitute about 2% of all eukaryotic genes.

The chemical activity of a kinase involves removing a phosphate group from ATP and covalently attaching it to one of three amino acids that have a free hydroxyl group. Most kinases act on both Serine and Threonine, others act on Tyrosine, and a number (dual specificity kinases) act on all three.

Because protein kinases have profound effects on a cell, their activity is highly regulated. Kinases are turned on or off by phosphorylation (sometimes by the kinase itself - cis-phosphorylation/autophosphorylation), by binding of activator proteins or inhibitor proteins, or small molecules, or by controlling their location in the cell relative to their substrates.

Disregulated kinase activity is a frequent cause of disease, particularly cancer, where kinases regulate many aspects that control cell growth, movement and death. Drugs which inhibit specific kinases are being developed to treat several diseases, and some are currently in clinical use, including Gleevec (imatinib) and Iressa (gefitinib).

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