The rat pheochromocytoma PC12 cell line is a widely used system to study neuronal differentiation for which sustained activation of the extracellular signaling related kinase (ERK) pathway is required. Here, we investigate the function of MK-STYX [MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) phosphoserine/threonine/tyrosine-binding protein] in neuronal differentiation. MK-STYX is a member of the MAPK phosphatase (MKP) family, which is generally responsible for dephosphorylating the ERKs. However, MK-STYX lacks catalytic activity due to the absence of the nucleophilic cysteine in the active site signature motif HC(X-5)R that is essential for phosphatase activity. Despite being catalytically inactive, MK-STYX has been shown to play a role in important cellular pathways, including stress responses. Here we show that PC12 cells endogenously express MK-STYX. In addition, MK-STYX, but not its catalytically active mutant, induced neurite-like outgrowths in PC12 cells. Furthermore, MK-STYX dramatically increased the number of cells with neurite extensions in response to nerve growth factor (NGF), whereas the catalytically active mutant did not. MK-STYX continued to induce neurites in the presence of a MEK (MAP kinase kinase) inhibitor suggesting that MK-STYX does not act through the Ras-ERK/MAPK pathway but is involved in another pathway whose inactivation leads to neuronal differentiation. RhoA activity assays indicated that MK-STYX induced extensions through the Rho signaling pathway. MK-STYX decreased RhoA activation, whereas RhoA activation increased when MK-STYX was down-regulated. Furthermore, MK-STYX affected downstream players of RhoA such as the actin binding protein cofilin. The presence of MK-STYX decreased the phosphorylation of cofilin in non NGF stimulated cells, but increased its phosphorylation in NGF stimulated cells, whereas knocking down MK-STYX caused an opposite effect. Taken together our data suggest that MK-STYX may be a regulator of RhoA signaling, and implicate this pseudophosphatase as a regulator of neuronal differentiation.
Flowers, Brittany M.; Rusnak, Lauren E.; Wong, Kristen E.; Banks, Dallas A.; Munyikwa, Michelle R.; McFarland, Alexander G.; and Hinton, Shanta D., The Pseudophosphatase MK-STYX Induces Neurite-Like Outgrowths in PC12 Cells (2014). PLOS ONE, 9(12).