Reactive oxygen species (ROS) arise through normal cellular aerobic respiration, and, in combination with external sources such as ionizing radiation, cigarette tar and smoke, and particulate matter generated by combustion, can have a profound negative effect on cellular macromolecules such as DNA that may lead to a number of human pathological disorders including accelerated aging and cancer. A major end product of ROS damage to DNA is the formation of apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) sites, which without removal are known to halt mRNA and DNA synthesis, or act as non-coding lesions resulting in the increased generation of DNA mutations. In human cells, the major enzyme in correcting the deleterious effects of AP sites in DNA is through the participation of AP endonuclease (APE), which initiates the removal of baseless sites in DNA through the catalytic scission of the phosphodiester bond 5′ and adjacent to an AP site. Interestingly, APE also possesses an activity (Ref-1) that controls the redox status of a number of transcription factors including Fos and Jun. The means by which APE/Ref-1 is directed to carry out such disparate roles are unknown. The presence of a number of phosphorylation sites scattered throughout both functional domains of APE/Ref-1 however offered one possible mechanism that we reasoned could play a role in dictating how this protein responds to different stimuli. Here we show that the in vitro redox activity of APE/Ref-1 is stimulated by PKC phosphorylation. Furthermore, when human cells were exposed to the PKC activator phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate, an increase in redox activity was observed that corresponded to an increase in the phosphorylation status of APE/Ref-1. Importantly, human cells exposed to the oxidizing agent hypochlorite, followed by methyl methanesulfanate, responded with an increase in redox activity by APE/Ref-1 that also involved an increase in PKC activity and a corresponding increase in the phosphorylation of APE/Ref-1. These results suggest that the ability of APE/Ref-1 to perform its in vivo redox function is correlated to its susceptibility to PKC phosphorylation that notably occurs in response to DNA damaging agents.
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