The α-subunit of eukaryotic initiation factor eIF2 (eIF2α) plays an important role in the regulation of mRNA translation through modulation of the interaction of eIF2 and a second initiation factor, eIF2B. The interaction of the two proteins is regulated in vivo by phosphorylation of eIF2α at Ser51. In the present study, rat eIF2α was expressed in Sf21 cells using the baculovirus expression system. The recombinant protein was purified to >90% homogeneity in a single immunoaffinity chromatographic step. The protein was free of endogenous eIF2α kinase activity and was rapidly phosphorylated by the eIF2α kinases HCR and PKR. A variant of eIF2α in which the phosphorylation site was changed to Ala was also expressed and purified. The variant eIF2α was not phosphorylated by either HCR or PKR, demonstrating that the kinases specifically phosphorylate the correct site in the recombinant protein even in the absence of the other two subunits of the protein. In summary, a rapid and inexpensive method for obtaining eIF2α has been developed. Use of the wildtype and variant forms of eIF2α to measure eIF2α kinase activity in cell and tissue extracts should greatly facilitate examination of the regulation of mRNA translation under a variety of conditions.
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