Molecular mechanism for the control of eukaryotic elongation factor 2 kinase by pH: Role in cancer cell survival

Jianling Xie, Halina Mikolajek, Craig R. Pigott, Kelly J. Hooper, Toby Mellows, Claire E. Moore, Hafeez Mohammed, Jörn M. Werner, Gareth J. Thomas, Christopher G. Proud

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37 Citations (Scopus)


Acidification of the extracellular and/or intracellular environment is involved in many aspects of cell physiology and pathology. Eukaryotic elongation factor 2 kinase (eEF2K) is a Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase that regulates translation elongation by phosphorylating and inhibiting eEF2. Here we show that extracellular acidosis elicits activation of eEF2K in vivo, leading to enhanced phosphorylation of eEF2. We identify five histidine residues in eEF2K that are crucial for the activation of eEF2K during acidosis. Three of them (H80, H87, and H94) are in its calmodulin-binding site, and their protonation appears to enhance the ability of calmodulin to activate eEF2K. The other two histidines (H227 and H230) lie in the catalytic domain of eEF2K. We also identify His108 in calmodulin as essential for activation of eEF2K. Acidification of cancer cell microenvironments is a hallmark of malignant solid tumors. Knocking down eEF2K in cancer cells attenuated the decrease in global protein synthesis when cells were cultured at acidic pH. Importantly, activation of eEF2K is linked to cancer cell survival under acidic conditions. Inhibition of eEF2K promotes cancer cell death under acidosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1805-1824
Number of pages20
JournalMolecular and Cellular Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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