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Through a "tag-and-modify" protein chemical modification strategy, we site-selectively phosphorylated the activation loop of protein kinase p38α. Phosphorylation at natural (180) and unnatural (172) sites created two pure phospho-forms. p38α bearing only a single phosphocysteine (pCys) as a mimic of pThr at 180 was sufficient to switch the kinase to an active state, capable of processing natural protein substrate ATF2; 172 site phosphorylation did not. In this way, we chemically recapitulated triggering of a relevant segment of the MAPK-signaling pathway in vitro. This allowed detailed kinetic analysis of global and stoichiometric phosphorylation events catalyzed by p38α and revealed that site 180 is a sufficient activator alone and engenders dominant mono-phosphorylation activity. Moreover, a survey of kinase inhibition using inhibitors with different (Type I/II) modes (including therapeutically relevant) revealed unambiguously that Type II inhibitors inhibit phosphorylated p38α and allowed discovery of a predictive kinetic analysis based on cooperativity to distinguish Type I vs II.

Original publication




Journal article


J Am Chem Soc

Publication Date





1698 - 1701


Activating Transcription Factor 2, Binding Sites, Cysteine, Enzyme Activation, Kinetics, MAP Kinase Signaling System, Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 14, Models, Molecular, Phosphorylation, Protein Conformation, Substrate Specificity