Regulation of protein transport to the nucleus: Central role of phosphorylation

David A. Jans, Stefan Hübner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

346 Citations (Scopus)


Nuclear protein transport is integral to eukaryotic cell processes such as differentiation, transformation, and the control of gene expression. Although the targeting role of nuclear localization signals (NLSs) has been known for some time, more recent results indicate that NLS-dependent nuclear protein import is precisely regulated. Phosphorylation appears to be the main mechanism controlling the nuclear transport of a number of proteins, including transcription factors such as NFκB, c-rel, dorsal, and SWI5 from yeast. Cytoplasmic retention factors, intra- and intermolecular NLS masking, and NLS masking by phosphorylation are some of the mechanisms by which phosphorylation specifically regulates nuclear transport. Even nuclear localization of the archetypal NLS containing simian virus 40 large tumor antigen (T-ag) is regulated, namely by the 'CcN motif,' which comprises the T-ag NLS ('N') determining ultimate subcellular destination, a casein kinase II site ('C') 13 amine acids NH2-terminal to the NLS modulating the rate of nuclear import, and a cyclin-dependent kinase site ('C') adjacent to the NLS regulating the maximal level of nuclear accumulation. The CcN motif appears to be a special form of phosphorylation-regulated NLS (prNLS), where phosphorylation at site(s) close to the NLS specifically regulates NLS function. The regulation of nuclear transport through phosphorylation and prNLSs appears to be common in eukaryotic cells from yeast and plants to higher mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-685
Number of pages35
JournalPhysiological Reviews
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1996
Externally publishedYes

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