Science signaling

Simple synthetic protein scaffolds can create adjustable artificial MAPK circuits in yeast and mammalian cells.

PMID 26126717


As hubs for eukaryotic cell signaling, scaffold proteins are attractive targets for engineering and manipulating signaling circuits. We designed synthetic scaffolds with a repeated PDZ domain that interacted with engineered kinases of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade involved in yeast mating to investigate how modular interactions mediate kinase cascades. The synthetic scaffolds functioned as logic gates of signaling circuits. We replaced the endogenous yeast scaffold Ste5 with designer scaffolds with a variable numbers of a PDZ domain that bound kinases or phosphatases engineered with a PDZ-binding motif. Although association with the membrane was necessary for pathway activity, surprisingly, mating responses occurred when the circuit contained a scaffold with only two PDZ domains, which could only bind two of the three kinases simultaneously. Additionally, the three tiers of the MAPK pathway exhibited decreasing positional plasticity from the top [MAPK kinase kinase (MAPKKK)] to the bottom (MAPK) tier such that binding of a MAPKKK, but not a MAPK, from the osmoregulatory pathway or protein kinase C pathway to the synthetic scaffold activated a reporter of the mating response. We also showed that the output duration and intensity could be altered by recruiting phosphatases or varying the affinity of the recruited proteins for the scaffold and that a designer MAPK scaffold functioned in mammalian cells. Thus, this synthetic approach with designer scaffolds should enable the rational manipulation or engineering of signaling pathways and provide insight into the functional roles of scaffold proteins.

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