A dynamic hydrophobic core orchestrates allostery in protein kinases

Kim J., Ahuja L.G., Chao F.A., Xia Y., McClendon C.L., Kornev A.P., Taylor S.S., Veglia G. Sci Adv. 2017, 3, 4, e1600663.

Eukaryotic protein kinases (EPKs) constitute a class of allosteric switches that mediate a myriad of signaling events. It has been postulated that EPKs’ active and inactive states depend on the structural architecture of their hydrophobic cores, organized around two highly conserved spines: C-spine and R-spine. How the spines orchestrate the transition of the enzyme between catalytically uncommitted and committed states remains elusive. Using relaxation dispersion nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, we found that the hydrophobic core of the catalytic subunit of protein kinase A, a prototypical and ubiquitous EPK, moves synchronously to poise the C subunit for catalysis in response to binding adenosine 5′-triphosphate. In addition to completing the C-spine, the adenine ring fuses the β structures of the N-lobe and the C-lobe. Additional residues that bridge the two spines (I150 and V104) are revealed as part of the correlated hydrophobic network; their importance was validated by mutagenesis, which led to inactivation. Because the hydrophobic architecture of the catalytic core is conserved throughout the EPK superfamily, the present study suggests a universal mechanism for dynamically driven allosteric activation of kinases mediated by coordinated signal transmission through ordered motifs in their hydrophobic cores.