Protein kinases are versatile signaling molecules that are involved in the regulation most physiological responses. The p21-activated kinases (PAKs) can be activated directly by the small GTPases Rac and Cdc42 and are among the best characterized downstream effectors of these Rho proteins. The structure, substrate specificity and functional role of PAKS are evolutionarily conserved from protozoa to mammals. Vertebrate PAKs are particularly important for cytoskeletal remodeling and focal adhesion assembly, thereby contributing to dynamic processes such as cell migration and synaptic plasticity. This issue of Cellular Logistics focuses on the PAK family of kinases, with ten reviews written by researchers currently working in the field. Here in this introductory overview we highlight some of the most interesting recent discoveries regarding PAK biochemistry and biology. The reviews in this issue cover a range of topics including the atomic structures of PAK1 and PAK4, their role in animals as assessed by knockout studies, and how PAKs are likely to contribute to cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The promise remains that PAK inhibitors will emerge that validate current pre-clinical studies suggesting that blocking PAK activity will positively contribute to human health.
The p21-activated kinases (PAKs) are a family of Ser/Thr protein kinases that are represented by six genes in humans (PAK 1–6), and are found in all eukaryotes sequenced to date. Genetic and knockdown experiments in frogs, fish and mice indicate group I PAKs are widely expressed, required for multiple tissue development, and particularly important for immune and nervous system function in the adult. The group II PAKs (human PAKs 4–6) are more enigmatic, but their restriction to metazoans and presence at cell-cell junctions suggests these kinases emerged to regulate junctional signaling. Studies of protozoa and fungal PAKs show that they regulate cell shape and polarity through phosphorylation of multiple cytoskeletal proteins, including microtubule binding proteins, myosins and septins. This chapter discusses what we know about the regulation of PAKs and their physiological role in different model organisms, based primarily on gene knockout studies.
The p21-activated kinase (PAK) family plays a versatile role in cell signaling by forming a hub of interactions. PAKs bind the GTPases like RAC and CDC42. Their proline-rich motifs bind SH3 adaptor proteins such as PIX and NCK. PAKs display nuclear localization signal sites and a potential Integrin binding site. No fully complete structure of the PAKs has been published; partial 3D structures of the PAK family kinases include portions of the auto-inhibited PAK1, GTPase bound to small peptides from PAKs, and the kinase domains from PAK1 and PAK4–6 (with small ligands in a few cases). This review focuses on exploring the intermolecular interaction regions in these 3D structures and we offer insights on the missing regions in crystal structure of the auto-inhibited PAK1. Understanding and modulation of PAK intermolecular interactions can pave the way for PAK blockers and biosensors.
PAK1 kinase is a crucial regulator of a variety of cellular processes, such as motility, cell division, gene transcription and apoptosis. Its deregulation is involved in several pathologies, including cancer, viral infection and neurodegenerative diseases. Due to this strong implication in human health, the complex network of signaling pathways centered on PAK1 is a subject of intensive investigations. This review summarizes the present knowledge on the multiple PAK1 intracellular localizations and on its shuttling between different compartments. The dynamics of PAK1 localization and activation are finely tuned by the cell and it is this tight control that underlies the capacity of PAK1 to participate in the regulation of many fundamental cell functions. Recently, PAK1 biosensors have been developed to visualize PAK1 activation in live cells. These new imaging tools should be of great help to better understand PAK1 biology and to conceive strategies for efficient and specific PAK1 inhibitors.
p21-activated kinases are a family of highly conserved protein serine/threonine kinases that are increasingly recognized as playing essential roles in a variety of key signaling processes. Genetic analyses in mice, using constitutive or regulated gene disruption, have provided important new insights into PAK function. In this paper, we review the genetic analysis of all six PAK genes in mice. These data address the singular and redundant functions of the various PAK genes and suggest therapeutic possibilities for small molecule PAK inhibitors or activators.
Our work and others’ over the past few years have led to the identification of new roles of PAK1 in cardiac physiology, such as the regulation of cardiac ion channel and actomyosin function. More recent studies have revealed that PAK1-deficient mice were vulnerable to cardiac hypertrophy and readily progress to failure under sustained pressure overload and susceptible to ischemia/reperfusion injury. Our further study indicated that the PAK1 activator FTY720 was able to prevent this pressure overload-induced hypertrophy in wild-type mice without compromising their cardiac functions. A cardiac protective effect against ischemia/reperfusion injury by FTY720 was also observed in both rat and mouse models by us and others. Thus, these studies suggest that PAK1 is more important in the heart than previously thought, in particular a therapeutic potential of PAK1 activators. In the future, in-depth investigations are required to further substantiate our hypotheses on mechanisms for PAK1 function in the heart and to explore a therapeutic potential of FTY720 and other PAK1 activators in heart disease conditions.
PAKs 4, 5 and 6 are members of the group B family of p21-activated kinases. Among this group, PAK4 has been most extensively studied. While it has essential roles in embryonic development, in adults high levels of PAK4 are frequently associated with cancer. PAK4 is overexpressed in a variety of cancers, and the Pak4 gene is amplified in some cancers. PAK4 overexpression is sufficient to cause oncogenic transformation in cells and in mouse models. The tight connection between PAK4 and cancer make it a promising diagnostic tool as well as a potential drug target. The group B PAKs also have important developmental functions. PAK4 is important for many early developmental processes, while PAK5 and PAK6 play roles in learning and memory in mice. This chapter provides an overview of the roles of the group B PAKs in cancer as well as development, and includes a discussion of PAK mediated signaling pathways and cellular functions.
Transformation of a normal cell to a cancer cell is caused by mutations in genes that regulate proliferation, apoptosis, and invasion. Small GTPases such as Ras, Rho, Rac and Cdc42 orchestrate many of the signals that are required for malignant transformation. The p21-activated kinases (PAKs) are effectors of Rac and Cdc42. PAKs are a family of serine/threonine protein kinases comprised of six isoforms (PAK1–6), and they play important roles in cytoskeletal dynamics, cell survival and proliferation. They act as key signal transducers in several cancer signaling pathways, including Ras, Raf, NFκB, Akt, Bad and p53. Although PAKs are not mutated in cancers, they are overexpressed, hyperactivated or amplified in several human tumors and their role in cell transformation make them attractive therapeutic targets. This review discusses the evidence that PAK is important for cell transformation and some key signaling pathways it regulates. This review primarily discusses Group I PAKs (PAK1, PAK2 and PAK3) as Group II PAKs (PAK4, PAK5 and PAK6) are discussed elsewhere in this issue (by Minden).
Developmental cognitive deficits including X-linked mental retardation (XLMR) can be caused by mutations in P21-activated kinase 3 (PAK3) that disrupt actin dynamics in dendritic spines. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer disease (AD), where both PAK1 and PAK3 are dysregulated, may share final common pathways with XLMR. Independent of familial mutation, cognitive deficits emerging with aging, notably AD, begin after decades of normal function. This prolonged prodromal period involves the buildup of amyloid-β (Aβ) extracellular plaques and intraneuronal neurofibrillary tangles (NFT). Subsequently region dependent deficits in synapses, dendritic spines and cognition coincide with dysregulation in PAK1 and PAK. Specifically proximal to decline, cytoplasmic levels of actin-regulating Rho GTPase and PAK1 kinase are decreased in moderate to severe AD, while aberrant activation and translocation of PAK1 appears around the onset of cognitive deficits. Downstream to PAK1, LIM kinase inactivates cofilin, contributing to cofilin pathology, while the activation of Rho-dependent kinase ROCK increases Aβ production. Aβ activation of fyn disrupts neuronal PAK1 and ROCK-mediated signaling, resulting in synaptic deficits. Reductions in PAK1 by the anti-amyloid compound curcumin suppress synaptotoxicity. Similarly other neurological disorders, including Huntington disease (HD) show dysregulation of PAKs. PAK1 modulates mutant huntingtin toxicity by enhancing huntingtin aggregation, and inhibition of PAK activity protects HD as well as fragile X syndrome (FXS) symptoms. Since PAK plays critical roles in learning and memory and is disrupted in many cognitive disorders, targeting PAK signaling in AD, HD and XLMR may be a novel common therapeutic target for AD, HD and XLMR.
Eukaryotic, prokaryotic and viral pathogens are known to interfere with signaling pathways of their host to promote their own survival and proliferation. Here, we present selected examples of modulation of PAK activity in human cells by both intracellular and extracellular pathogens, focusing on one eukaryotic pathogen, the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, two Gram-negative bacteria (Helicobacter pylori and Pseudomonas aeruginosa), and two viruses belonging to distinct groups, the lentivirus HIV and the orthomyxovirus Influenza virus A.
The p21-activated kinases (PAKs) are downstream effectors of the small G-proteins of the Rac and cdc42 family and have been implicated as essential for cell proliferation and survival. Recent studies have also demonstrated the promise of PAKs as therapeutic targets in various types of cancers. The PAKs are divided into two major groups (group I and II) based on sequence similarities. Although the different roles the PAK groups might play are not well understood, recent efforts have focused on the identification of kinase inhibitors that can discriminate between the two groups. In this review these efforts and newly identified inhibitors will be described and future directions discussed.