Phosphorylated ssk1 prevents unphosphorylated ssk1 from activating the ssk2 mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase in the yeast high-osmolarity glycerol osmoregulatory pathway

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In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, external high osmolarity activates the Hog1 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), which controls various aspects of osmoadaptation. Ssk1 is a homolog of bacterial two-component response regulators and activates the Ssk2 MAPK kinase kinase upstream of Hog1. It has been proposed that unphosphorylated Ssk1 (Ssk1-OH) is the active form and that Ssk1 phosphorylated (Ssk1P) at Asp554 by the Sln1-Ypd1-Ssk1 multistep phosphorelay mechanism is the inactive form. In this study, we show that constitutive activation of Ssk2 occurs when Ssk1 phosphorylation is blocked by either an Ssk1 mutation at the phosphorylation site or an Ssk1 mutation that inhibits its interaction with Ypd1, the donor of phosphate to Ssk1. Thus, Ssk1-OH is indeed necessary for Ssk2 activation. However, overexpression of wild-type Ssk1 or of an Ssk1 mutant that cannot bind Ssk2 prevents constitutively active Ssk1 mutants from activating Ssk2. Therefore, Ssk1 has a dual function as both an activator of Ssk2 and an inhibitor of Ssk1 itself. We also found that Ssk1 exists mostly as a dimer within cells. From mutant phenotypes, we deduce that only the Ssk1-OH/Ssk1-OH dimer can activate Ssk2 efficiently. Hence, because Ssk1P binds to and inhibits Ssk1-OH, moderate fluctuation of the level of Ssk1-OH does not lead to nonphysiological and detrimental activation of Hog1.

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