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Jun N-terminal kinase 2 modulates thymocyte apoptosis and T cell activation through c-Jun and nuclear factor of activated T cell (NF-AT)

  • Axel Behrens
  • Kanaga Sabapathy
  • Isabella Graef
  • Mike Cleary
  • Gerald R. Crabtree
  • Erwin F. Wagner
The National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Feb 13, 2001


The Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) recently have been shown to be required for thymocyte apoptosis and T cell differentiation and/or proliferation. To investigate the molecular targets of JNK signaling in lymphoid cells, we used mice in which the serines phosphorylated by JNK in c-Jun were replaced by homologous recombination with alanines (junAA mice). Lymphocytes from these mice showed no phosphorylation of c-Jun in response to activation stimuli, whereas c-Jun was rapidly phosphorylated in wild-type cells. Despite the fact that c-jun is essential for early development, junAA mice develop normally; however, c-Jun N-terminal phosphorylation was required for efficient T cell receptor-induced and tumor necrosis factor-α-induced thymocyte apoptosis. In contrast, c-Jun phosphorylation by JNK is not required for T cell proliferation or differentiation. Because jnk2−/− T cells display a proliferation defect, we concluded that JNK2 must have other substrates required for lymphocyte function. Surprisingly, jnk2−/− T cells showed reduced NF-AT DNA-binding activity after activation. Furthermore, overexpression of JNK2 in Jurkat T cells strongly enhanced NF-AT-dependent transcription. These results demonstrate that JNK signaling differentially uses c-Jun and NF-AT as molecular effectors during thymocyte apoptosis and T cell proliferation.

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