The histidyl-tRNA synthetase-related sequence in the eIF-2α protein kinase GCN2 interacts with tRNA and is required for activation in response to starvation for different amino acids

S. A. Wek, S. Zhu, R. C. Wek

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Protein kinase GCN2 is a multidomain protein that contains a region homologous to histidyl-tRNA synthetases juxtaposed to the kinase catalytic moiety. Previous studies have shown that in response to histidine starvation, GCN2 phosphorylates eukaryotic initiation factor 2 (eIF-2), to induce the translational expression of GCN4, a transcriptional activator of genes subject to the general amino acid control. It was proposed that the synthetase-related sequences of GCN2 stimulate the activity of the kinase by interacting directly with uncharged tRNA that accumulates during amino acid limitation. In addition to histidine starvation, expression of GCN4 is also regulated by a number of other amino acid limitations. Questions that we posed in this report are whether uncharged tRNA is the most direct regulator of GCN2 and whether the function of this kinase is required to recognize each of the different amino acid starvation signals. We show that GCN2 phosphorylation of eIF-2, and the resulting general amino acid control pathway, is stimulated in response to starvation for each of several different amino acids, in addition to histidine limitation. Cells containing a defective aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase also stimulated GCN2 phosphorylation of eIF-2 in the absence of amino acid starvation, indicating that uncharged tRNA levels are the most direct regulator of GCN2 kinase. Using a Northwestern blot (RNA binding) assay, we show that uncharged tRNA can bind to the synthetase-related domain of GCN2. Mutations in the motif 2 sequence conserved among class II synthetases, including histidyl-tRNA synthetases, impair the ability of this synthetase-related domain to bind tRNA and abolish GCN2 phosphorylation of eIF-2 required to stimulate the general amino acid control response. These in vivo and in vitro experiments indicate that synthetase-related sequences regulate GCN2 kinase function by monitoring the levels of multiple uncharged tRNAs that accumulate during amino acid limitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4497-4506
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jan 1 1995


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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