The antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family member Mcl-1 is a PEST protein (containing sequences enriched in proline, glutamic acid, serine, and threonine) and is subject to rapid degradation via multiple pathways. Impaired degradation leading to the maintenance of Mcl-1 expression is an important determinant of drug resistance in cancer. Phosphorylation at Thr 163 in the PEST region, stimulated by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol acetic acid (TPA)-induced activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), is associated with Mcl-1 stabilization in BL41-3 Burkitt lymphoma cells. This contrasts with the observation that Thr 163 phosphorylation in normal fibroblasts primes glycogen synthase kinase (GSK3)-induced phosphorylation at Ser 159, producing a phosphodegron that targets Mcl-1 for degradation. In the present follow-up studies in BL41-3 cells, Mcl-1 degradation was found to be independent of the GSK3-mediated pathway, providing a parallel to emerging findings showing that Mcl-1 degradation through this pathway is lost in many different types of cancer. Findings in Mcl-1-transfected CHO cells corroborated those in BL41-3 cells in that the GSK3-targeted phosphodegron did not play a major role in Mcl-1 degradation, and a phosphomimetic T163E mutation resulted in marked Mcl-1 stabilization. TPA-treated BL41-3 cells, in addition to exhibiting Thr 163 phosphorylation and Mcl-1 stabilization, exhibited an ∼10-fold increase in resistance to multiple chemotherapeutic agents, including Ara-C, etoposide, vinblastine, or cisplatin. In these cancer cells in which Mcl-1 degradation is not dependent on the GSK3/phosphodegron-targeted pathway, ERK activation and Thr 163 phosphorylation are associated with pronounced Mcl-1 stabilization and drug resistance - effects that can be suppressed by inhibition of ERK activation.
Nifoussi, S. K., Vrana, J. A., Domina, A. M., de Biasio, A., Gui, J., Gregory, M. A., … Craig, R. W. (2012). Thr 163 Phosphorylation Causes Mcl-1 Stabilization when Degradation Is Independent of the Adjacent GSK3-Targeted Phosphodegron, Promoting Drug Resistance in Cancer. PLoS ONE, 7(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047060