Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAP kinases) or melosis-activated myelin basic protein kinase (p44mpk) are known to be activated by a mechanism involving dual phosphorylation at both tyrosine and serine/threonine in response to many extracellular stimuli. There has been considerable speculation as to whether MAP kinases are autophosphorylated and activated by an upstream protein kinase (MAP kinase kinase) or an activator of autophosphorylation or both. Here we report that the ets-related proteins elk-1 and Δelk-1 to be potential physlological substrates and activators of MAP kinases. Our results demonstrate for the first time that MAP kinase activators can also be non-kinase proteins that enhance the autophosphorylation and activation of MAP kinase. These findings could establish a general mechanism wherein specific MAP kinase activator protein(s) may function by interacting with MAP kinases ensuring a conformational change and stimulating their autophosphorylation and activation property. Our results also suggest that the amino-terminal truncated elk-1 proteins are better activators of MAP kinase than full length proteins indicating the presence of a potential negative regulatory region which may control the kinase activator function of elk-1 proteins. Our results suggest differential regulation of elk-1 and Δelk-1 proteins in fibroblasts stimulated by epidermal growth factor implicating a key role for these proteins in the signal transduction pathway. These results establish the presence of an alternative pathway for activation of MAP kinases. Thus we propose that elk-1 proteins may represent key intermediates which would transmit signals arriving at the surface of the cell from activated receptors to downstream MAP kinases in the cytoplasm to reach the transcriptional factors in the nucleus.

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