Mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase phosphatase-3 (MKP-3) is a dual specificity phosphatase that inactivates extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) MAP kinases. This reflects tight and specific binding between ERK and the MKP-3 amino terminus with consequent phosphatase activation and dephosphorylation of the bound MAP kinase. We have used a series of p38/ERK chimeric molecules to identify domains within ERK necessary for binding and catalytic activation of MKP-3. These studies demonstrate that ERK kinase subdomains V-XI are necessary and sufficient for binding and catalytic activation of MKP-3. These domains constitute the major COOH-terminal structural lobe of ERK. p38/ERK chimeras possessing these regions display increased sensitivity to inactivation by MKP-3. These data also reveal an overlap between ERK domains interacting with MKP-3 and those known to confer substrate specificity on the ERK MAP kinase. Consistent with this, we show that peptides representing docking sites within the target substrates Elk-1 and p90(rsk) inhibit ERK-dependent activation of MKP-3. In addition, abolition of ERK-dependent phosphatase activation following mutation of a putative kinase interaction motif (KIM) within the MKP-3 NH2 terminus suggests that key sites of contact for the ERK COOH-terminal structural lobe include residues localized between the Cdc25 homology domains (CH2) found conserved between members of the DSP gene family.
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