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Blood. 2000 Sep 1;96(5):1844-52.

Importance of the MKK6/p38 pathway for interleukin-12-induced STAT4 serine phosphorylation and transcriptional activity.

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Lymphocyte Cell Biology Section, Arthritis and Rheumatism Branch, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1820, USA.


Interleukin-12 (IL-12) is a key immunoregulatory cytokine that promotes Th1 differentiation and cell-mediated immune responses. The transcription factor STAT4 (signal transducer and activator of transcription 4) is an important element in mediating IL-12 signals, as evidenced by the fact that STAT4(-/-) mice display impaired responsiveness to IL-12 and deficient Th1 differentiation. STAT4 is inducibly phosphorylated on tyrosine and serine in response to IL-12, but the kinase(s) responsible for the latter event is unknown. Here we show that IL-12 induces STAT4 phosphorylation on serine 721 and that mutation of serine 721 interferes with STAT4 transcriptional activity. In addition, we show that mutation of tyrosine 693 abrogates IL-12-induced STAT4 tyrosine phosphorylation and transcriptional activity. Although the site surrounding serine 721 is an optimum consensus sequence for mitogen-activated family of protein kinases (MAPKs)-mediated phosphorylation, we demonstrate that IL-12 does not induce extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) or c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activation in T and natural killer (NK) cells and that IL-12-induced STAT4 transcriptional activity is not affected by these kinases. Rather, we show that IL-12 induces p38 activation. Moreover, we demonstrate that p38alpha and its upstream activator, MKK6, phosphorylate STAT4 on serine 721, and are required for STAT4 full transcriptional activity induced by IL-12, establishing the MKK6/p38alpha/STAT4 pathway as an important mediator of IL-12 actions. (Blood. 2000;96:1844-1852).

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