Phosphorylation: A Common Theme
Almost all second messenger signaling involves reversible phos-phorylation, which performs two principal functions in signaling: amplification and flexible regulation. In amplification, rather like GTP bound to a G protein, the attachment of a phosphoryl group to a serine, threonine, or tyrosine residue powerfully amplifies the initial regulatory signal by recording a molecular memory that the pathway has been activated; dephosphorylation erases the mem-ory, taking a longer time to do so than is required for dissociation of an allosteric ligand. In flexible regulation, differing substrate specificities of the multiple protein kinases regulated by second messengers provide branch points in signaling pathways that may be independently regulated. In this way, cAMP, Ca2+, or other second messengers can use the presence or absence of particular kinases or kinase substrates to produce quite different effects in different cell types. Inhibitors of protein kinases have great poten-tial as therapeutic agents, particularly in neoplastic diseases. Trastuzumab, an antibody that antagonizes growth factor receptor signaling (discussed earlier), is a useful therapeutic agent for breast cancer. Another example of this general approach is imatinib, a small molecule inhibitor of the cytoplasmic tyrosine kinase Abl, which is activated by growth factor signaling pathways. Imatinib is effective for treating chronic myelogenous leukemia, which is caused by a chromosomal translocation event that produces an active Bcr/Abl fusion protein in hematopoietic cells.