c-Kit triggers dual phosphorylations, which couple activation and degradation of the essential melanocyte factor Mi

Min Wu, Timothy J. Hemesath, Clifford M Takemoto, Martin A. Horstmann, Audrey G. Wells, E. Roydon Price, Daniel Z. Fisher, David E. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

425 Scopus citations


Microphthalmia (Mi) is a bHLHZip transcription factor that is essential for melanocyte development and postnatal function. It is thought to regulate both differentiated features of melanocytes such as pigmentation as well as proliferation/survival, based on phenotypes of mutant mouse alleles. Mi activity is controlled by at least two signaling pathways. Melanocyte- stimulating hormone (MSH) promotes transcription of the Mi gene through cAMP elevation, resulting in sustained Mi up-regulation over many hours, c-Kit signaling up-regulates Mi function through MAP kinase phosphorylation of Mi, thereby recruiting the p300 transcriptional coactivator. The current study reveals that c-Kit signaling triggers two phosphorylation events on Mi, which up-regulate transactivation potential yet simultaneously target Mi for ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis. The specific activation/degradation signals derive from MAPK/ERK targeting of serine 73, whereas serine 409 serves as a substrate for p90 Rsk-1. An unphosphorylatable double mutant at these two residues is at once profoundly stable and transcriptionally inert. These c- Kit-induced phosphorylations couple transactivation to proteasome-mediated degradation. c-Kit signaling thus triggers short-lived Mi activation and net Mi degradation, in contrast to the profoundly increased Mi expression after MSH signaling, potentially explaining the functional diversity of this transcription factor in regulating proliferation, survival, and differentiation in melanocytes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-312
Number of pages12
JournalGenes & development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • c-Kit
  • MAPK
  • Microphthalmia
  • p90 Rsk
  • Steel factor
  • Ubiquitin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


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