Phosphorylation of keratin polypeptides 8 and 18 (K8/18) and other intermediate filament proteins results in their reorganization in vitro and in vivo. In order to study functional aspects of human K18 phosphorylation, we generated and purified a polyclonal antibody (termed 3055) that specifically recognizes a major phosphorylation site (ser52) of human K18 but not dephosphorylated K18 or a ser52-->ala K18 mutant. Pulse-chase experiments followed by immunoprecipitation and peptide mapping of in vivo 32PO4-labeled K8/18 indicated that the overall phosphorylation turnover rate is faster for K18 versus K8, and that ser52 of K18 is a highly dynamic phosphorylation site. Isoelectric focusing of 32PO4 labeled K18 followed by immunoblotting with 3055 showed that the major phosphorylated K18 species contain ser52 phosphorylation but that some K18 molecules exist that are preferentially phosphorylated on K18 sites other than ser52. Immunoblotting of total cell lysates obtained from cells at different stages of the cell cycle showed that ser52 phosphorylation increases three to fourfold during the S and G2/M phases of the cell cycle. Immunofluorescence staining of cells at different stages of mitosis, using 3055 or other antibodies that recognize the total keratin pool, resulted in preferential binding of the 3055 antibody to the reorganized keratin fraction. Staining of human tissues or tissues from transgenic mice that express human K18 showed that the phospho-ser52 K18 species are located preferentially in the basolateral and apical domains in the liver and pancreas, respectively, but no preferential localization was noted in other simple epithelial organs examined. Our results support a model whereby phosphorylated intermediate filaments are localized in specific cellular domains depending on the tissue type and site(s) of phosphorylation. In addition, ser52 of human K18 is a highly dynamic phosphorylation site that undergoes modulation during the S and G2/M phases of the cell cycle in association with filament reorganization.

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