ERK2 nuclear-cytoplasmic distribution is regulated in response to hormones and cellular state without the requirement for karyopherin-mediated nuclear import. One proposed mechanism for the movement of ERK2 into the nucleus is through a direct interaction between ERK2 and nucleoporins present in the nuclear pore complex. Previous reports have attributed regulation of ERK2 localization to proteins that activate or deactivate ERK2, such as the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase kinase MEK1 and MAP kinase phosphatases. Recently, a small non-catalytic protein, PEA-15, has also been demonstrated to promote a cytoplasmic ERK2 localization. We found that the MAP kinase insert in ERK2 is required for its interaction with PEA-15. Consistent with its recognition of the MAP kinase insert, PEA-15 blocked activation of ERK2 by MEK1, which also requires the MAP kinase insert to interact productively with ERK2. To determine how PEA-15 influences the localization of ERK2, we used a permeabilized cell system to examine the effect of PEA-15 on the localization of ERK2 and mutants that have lost the ability to bind PEA-15. Wild type ERK2 was unable to enter the nucleus in the presence of an excess of PEA-15; however, ERK2 lacking the MAP kinase insert largely retained the ability to enter the nucleus. Binding assays demonstrated that PEA-15 interfered with the ability of ERK2 to bind to nucleoporins. These results suggest that PEA-15 sequesters ERK2 in the cytoplasm at least in part by interfering with its ability to interact with nucleoporins, presenting a potential paradigm for regulation of ERK2 localization.
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