MEK1 and MEK2 contain a proline-rich insert not present in any other known MEK (MAP (mitogen-activated protein)/ERK (extracellular signal- regulated kinase) kinase) family members. We examined the effect of removing the MEK1 polyproline insert on MEK activity, its binding to Raf, and its ability to activate ERKs in cells. Deletion of the insert had no effect on either the activity of MEK1 or on its ability to bind to Raf-1. Both wild type and constitutively active MEK1 coimmunoprecipitated with Raf-1 whether or not the insert was present. Deletion of the insert did not reduce activation of MEK1 by EGF or activated Raf in cells. The proline-rich insert enhanced the ability of an otherwise equally active MEK1 protein to regulate endogenous ERKs in mammalian cells. Overexpression of either constitutively active MEK1 lacking the insert or ERK2 compensates for the weaker in vivo activity of the MEK1 deletion mutant. Expression of the insert in cells reduced activation of ERKs by EGF. We conclude that the proline-rich insert is not the site of the MEK-Raf interaction and that the polyproline insert is required for its efficient activation of downstream ERKs in cells.
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