Protein kinase C

Protein kinase C ('PKC', EC is actually a family of protein kinases consisting of ~10 isozymes. They are divided into three subfamilies: conventional (or classical), novel, and atypical based on their second messenger requirements. Conventional (c)PKCs contain the isoforms α, βI, βII, and γ. These require Ca2+, diacylglycerol (DAG), and a phospholipid such as phosphatidylcholine for activation. Novel (n)PKCs include the &Δ;, ε, η, and θ isoforms, and require DAG, but do not require Ca2+ for activation. Thus, conventional and novel PKCs are activated through the same signal transduction pathway as phospholipase C. On the other hand, Atypical (a)PKCs (including ζ and ι / λ isoforms) require neither Ca2+ nor diacylglycerol for activation. The term "protein kinase C" usually means the protein kinase Cα enzyme, a conventional PKC.

Structure and regulation

The structure of all PKCs consists of a regulatory domain and a catalytic domain tethered together by a hinge region. The catalytic region is highly homologous among the different isoforms, as well as to a lesser degree the catalytic region of other serine/threonine kinases. The second messenger requirement differences in the isoforms are a result of the regulatory region, which are similar within the classes, but differ among them. Most of the crystal structure of the catalytic region of PKC has not been determined, except for PKC theta and iota. Due to its similarity to other kinases whose crystal structure have been determined, the structure can be strongly predicted.

The regulatory domain or the amino-teminus of the PKCs contains several shared subregions. The C1 domain, present in all of the isoforms of PKC has a binding site for DAG as well as non-hydrolysable analogues called phorbol esters. This domain is functional and capable of binding DAG in both conventional and novel isoforms, however, the C1 domain in atypical PKCs is incapable of binding to DAG or phorbol esters. The C2 domain acts as a Ca2+ sensor and is present in both conventional and novel isoforms, but functional as a Ca2+ sensor only in the conventional. The pseudosubstrate region, which is present in all three classes of PKC, is a small sequence of amino acids that mimic a substrate and bind the substrate-binding cavity in the catalytic domain keeping the enzyme inactive. When Ca2+ and DAG are present in sufficient concentrations, they bind to the C2 and C1 domain, respectively, and recruit PKC to the membrane. This interaction with the membrane results in release of the pseudosubstrate from the catalytic site and activation of the enzyme. In order for these allosteric interactions to occur, however, PKC must first be properly folded and in the correct conformation permissive for catalytic action. This is contingent upon phosphorylation of the catalytic region, discussed below.

The catalytic region or kinase core of the ABC kinases contains approximately 40% amino acid sequence similarity. This similarity increases to ~ 70% across PKCs and even higher when comparing within classes. For example, the two atypical PKC isoforms, ζ and ι/λ, are 84% identical. Of the over 30 protein kinase structures whose crystal structure has been revealed, all of them have the same basic organization. They are a bilobal structure with a β sheet comprising the N-terminal lobe and an α helix constituting the C-terminal lobe. Both the ATP- and substrate-binding sites are located in the cleft formed by these two lobes. This is also where the pseudosubstrate domain of the regulatory region binds. Another feature of the PKC catalytic region that is essential to the viability of the kinase is its phosphorylation. The catalytic and novel PKCs have three phosphorylation sites, termed: the activation loop, the turn motif, and the hydrophobic motif. The atypical PKCs are phosphorylated only on the activation loop and the turn motif. Phosphorylation of the hydrophobic motif is rendered unnecessary by the presence of a glutamic acid in place of a serine, which, as a negative charge, acts similarly to a phosphorylated residue. These phosphorylation events are essential for the activity of the enzyme, and 3-phosphoinositide-dependent protein kinase-1 (PDK1) is the upstream kinase responsible for initiating the process by transphosphorylation of the activation loop.

Upon activation, protein kinase C enzymes are translocated to the plasma membrane by RACK proteins (membrane-bound receptor for activated protein kinase C proteins). The protein kinase C enzymes are known for their long-term activation: they remain activated after the original activation signal or the Ca2+-wave is gone. This is presumably achieved by the production of diacylglycerol from phosphatidylcholine by a phospholipase; fatty acids may also play a role in long-term activation.


The consensus sequence of protein kinase C enzymes is similar to that of protein kinase A, since it contains basic amino acids close to the Ser/Thr to be phosphorylated. Their substrates are MARCKS proteins, MAP kinase, transcription factor inhibitor IκB, the vitamin D3 receptor VDR, Raf kinase, calpain, and the epidermal growth factor receptor.


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