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Regulation of ULK1 in autophagy

The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
Publication Date
  • Ulk1
  • Autophagy
  • Kinase
  • Substrate
  • Pim1
  • Biology


ULK1 (UNC-51 like kinase 1) is a serine/threonine protein kinase that has been shown to play a crucial role in autophagy, a process of self digestion implicated in maintaining cellular homeostasis and in mediating type II programmed cell death. However, the exact mechanism by which ULK1 controls autophagy remains elusive, mostly because none of the known ULK1 targets have been directly linked to autophagy. To address this issue, I have employed a protein microarray screening approach to identify novel ULK1 substrates. I found five putative targets: MERTK (proto-oncogene tyrosine-protein kinase MER), B-RAF (v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homologue B1), NOL4 (nucleolar protein 4), TBC1D22B (TBC1 domain family member 22B) and ACVRL1 (activin A receptor type II-like 1). My preliminary experiments have not confirmed that MERTK or B-RAF can be phosphorylated by ULK1 in vitro. However, further investigation will be required to firmly rule out MERTK and B-RAF as downstream targets of ULK1 and to test the ability of ULK1 to phosphorylate the other candidates. In addition, I have identified by in-gel kinase assay a ULK1 kinase at 34-kDa whose ability to phosphorylate the kinase domain of ULK1 was increased upon starvation. Using the genome information, I predicted this upstream kinase to be Pim1 (Proto-oncogene serine/threonine-protein kinase pim-1). I confirmed that Pim1 phosphorylated ULK1 in vitro at S147 and S224. Results of site directed mutagenesis suggest that phosphorylation at S224 correlates with increased ULK1 activity. This is consistent with observation that Pim1 is capable of activating ULK1 in vitro. Furthermore, I present preliminary data suggesting that Pim1 promotes autophagy in HeLa cells.

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