We isolated three related cDNA clones from a mouse cerebellar library; the type I cDNA was identical to the gene encoding the apoptosis-associated tyrosine kinase (AATYK), whose expression in myeloid precursor cells is increased during growth arrest or apoptosis. Low levels of AATYK mRNA expression were seen in adult mouse brains but not in embryos. In situ hybridization confirmed the widespread expression of AATYK mRNA in neurons throughout the adult brain. AATYK possessed tyrosine kinase activity and was autophosphorylated when expressed in 293 cells. AATYK mRNA expression was rapidly induced in cultured cerebellar granule cells during apoptosis induced by a low concentration of KCl (5 mM). Levels of endogenous AATYK protein were increased only slightly, but they were accompanied by an increase in molecular weight during apoptosis. Results of the tyrosine phosphatase treatments indicated that the increase in molecular weight was partly caused by tyrosine phosphorylation. The number of apoptotic granule cells overexpressing wild-type AATYK protein was significantly greater than the number of apoptotic granule cells overexpressing a mutant AATYK that lacked tyrosine kinase activity in low concentrations of KCl. These findings suggest that through its tyrosine kinase activity, AATYK is involved in the apoptosis of mature neurons.
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