Myc phosphorylation in its basic helix–loop–helix region destabilizes transient α-helical structures, disrupting Max and DNA binding

Pavel Macek, Matthew J. Cliff, Kevin J. Embrey, Geoffrey A. Holdgate, J. Willem M. Nissink, Stanislava Panova, Jonathan P. Waltho, Rick A. Davies

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Myelocytomatosis proto-oncogene transcription factor (Myc) is an intrinsically disordered protein with critical roles in cellular homeostasis and neoplastic transformation. It is tightly regulated in the cell, with Myc phosphorylation playing a major role. In addition to the well-described tandem phosphorylation of Thr-52 and Ser-62 in the Myc transactivation domain linked to its degradation, P21 (RAC1)–activated kinase 2 (PAK2)–mediated phosphorylation of serine and threonine residues in the C-terminal basic helix–loop–helix leucine zipper (bHLH-LZ) region regulates Myc transcriptional activity. Here we report that PAK2 preferentially phosphorylates Myc twice, at Thr-358 and Ser-373, with only a minor fraction being modified at the previously identified Thr-400 site. For transcriptional activity, Myc binds E-box DNA elements, requiring its heterodimerization with Myc-associated factor X (Max) via the bHLH-LZ regions. Using isothermal calorimetry (ITC), we found that Myc phosphorylation destabilizes this ternary protein–DNA complex by decreasing Myc's affinity for Max by 2 orders of magnitude, suggesting a major effect of phosphorylation on this complex. Phosphomimetic substitutions revealed that Ser-373 dominates the effect on Myc–Max heterodimerization. Moreover, a T400D substitution disrupted Myc's affinity for Max. ITC, NMR, and CD analyses of several Myc variants suggested that the effect of phosphorylation on the Myc–Max interaction is caused by secondary structure disruption during heterodimerization rather than by a change in the structurally disordered state of Myc or by phosphorylation-induced electrostatic repulsion in the heterodimer. Our findings provide critical insights into the effects of PAK2-catalyzed phosphorylation of Myc on its interactions with Max and DNA.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)9301-9310
    JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
    Issue number24
    Early online date25 Apr 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2018


    • protein dynamic
    • protein phosphorylation
    • protein-protein interaction
    • Myc (c-Myc) biophysics
    • intrinsically disordered protein

    Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

    • Manchester Institute of Biotechnology


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