Casein kinase II (CK II) has been implicated in regulating multiple processes related to cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation. To better understand the function(s) and regulation of this ubiquitous kinase, it is important to know its subcellular distribution. However, this issue has been the subject of contradictory reports. In this study, we have used indirect immunofluorescence microscopy and cell fractionation to study the subcellular distribution of all three subunits of chicken CK II, alpha, alpha', and beta. We examined primary chick embryo fibroblasts, virally transformed chicken hepatoma cells, as well as HeLa cells transiently transfected with cDNAs encoding chicken CK II subunits. We found that each of the three CK II subunits was located predominantly in the cell nucleus, irrespective of the cell type analyzed or the procedure used for cell fixation. No major differences were detected in the subcellular distributions of individual CK II subunits, and no evidence was obtained for subunit redistributions during interphase of the cell cycle. During mitosis, the bulk of the enzyme was dispersed throughout the cell, though a fraction of all three subunits was associated with the mitotic spindle. Biochemical studies based on mechanical enucleation of chicken cells confirmed the predominantly nuclear location of all three CK II subunits. Finally, immunoblotting experiments were carried out to study the expression of CK II subunits. A survey of different adult chicken tissues revealed substantial tissue-specific differences in the levels of CK II protein, but no evidence was obtained for pronounced tissue specificity in the expression of individual CK II subunits. These results strongly suggest that CK II functions primarily in regulating nuclear activities, and that the two catalytic subunits, alpha and alpha', may carry out overlapping functions.

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