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Independent Measurement of MEK Phosphoforms by Capillary Immunoassay (AACR 2008)

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Activation of the MAPK pathway involves a complicated web of MEK phosphorylations. The two MEK isoforms are regulated by at least 3 other enzymes - PAK, RAF and ERK. Up until now it has been impossible to quantitate and determine the stoichiometry of the various multiply phosphorylated MEK forms. We have developed a new capillary immunoassay which resolves the different MEK variants, and allows measurement of the relative abundance of each form with a single antibody. This measurement of how the multiply phosphorylated forms change gives insight into how the dynamics of pathway feedback and activity change in response to drug treatment. We have shown that signaling upstream of MEK kinase is inhibited by negative feedback in tumor cells in which the pathway is driven by HER kinases. In these cells, MEK1 is phosphorylated at ERK-- and PAK-dependent sites (T292, S298), whereas phosphorylation on RAF-dependent sites is undetectable. A selective MEK inhibitor inhibits ERK phosphorylation, relieves the negative feedback and activates MEK phosphorylation in these cells. Under these conditions, phosphorylation of both kinases on the RAF dependent sites (S217, S222) is markedly induced. Thus, inhibition of MEK/MAPK signaling in these cells abrogates upstream feedback of the pathway and results in a complex change in phosphorylation of MEK due to multiple kinases. The capillary immunoassay allows determination of complex changes in phosphorylation of MEK kinase by PAK, RAF and ERK kinases in response to MEK inhibition. This technique will be useful in mapping pathway network response to targeted drugs in vitro and in vivo.

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