Mixed lineage kinases (MLKs): a role in dendritic cells, inflammation and immunity?


Benjamin M. Chain
Department of Immunology and Molecular Pathology
University College London
Windeyer Building, 46 Cleveland St.
London W1T 4JF, UK
Tel.: +442076799402
Fax: +442076799308
E-mail: b.chain@ucl.ac.uk


This review summarizes current knowledge about the mixed lineage kinases (MLKs) and explores their potential role in inflammation and immunity. MLKs were identified initially as signalling molecules in the nervous system. They were also shown to play a role in the cell cycle. Further studies documented three groups of MLKs, and showed that they may be activated via the c-Jun NH2 terminal kinase (JNK) pathway, and by Rho GTPases. The biochemistry of the MLKs has been investigated in considerable detail. Homodimerization and heterodimerization can occur, and both autophosphorylation and autoinhibition are seen. The interaction between MLKs and JNK interacting protein (JIP) scaffolds, and the resultant effects on mitogen activated protein kinases, have been identified. Clearly, there is some redundancy within the MLK pathway(s), since mice which lack the MLK3 molecule are not abnormal. However, using a combination of biochemical analysis and pharmacological inhibitors, several recent studies in vitro have suggested that MLKs are not only expressed in cells of the immune system (as well as in the nervous system), but also may be implicated selectively in the signalling pathway that follows on toll-like receptor ligation in innate sentinel cells, such as the dendritic cell.