Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identification of four novel phosphorylation sites in estrogen receptor α: impact on receptor-dependent gene expression and phosphorylation by protein kinase CK2

Christopher C Williams1, Aninda Basu2, Abeer El-Gharbawy2, Latonya M Carrier2, Carolyn L Smith3 and Brian G Rowan2*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA, USA

2 Department of Structural and Cellular Biology, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA

3 Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Biochemistry 2009, 10:36  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-10-36

Published: 31 December 2009



Estrogen receptor α (ERα) phosphorylation is important for estrogen-dependent transcription of ER-dependent genes, ligand-independent receptor activation and endocrine therapy response in breast cancer. However ERα phosphorylation at the previously identified sites does not fully account for these receptor functions. To determine if additional ERα phosphorylation sites exist, COS-1 cells expressing human ERα were labeled with [32P]H3PO4 in vivo and ERα tryptic phosphopeptides were isolated to identify phosphorylation sites.


Previously uncharacterized phosphorylation sites at serines 46/47, 282, 294, and 559 were identified by manual Edman degradation and phosphoamino acid analysis and confirmed by mutagenesis and phospho-specific antibodies. Antibodies detected phosphorylation of endogenous ERα in MCF-7, MCF-7-LCC2, and Ishikawa cancer cell lines by immunoblot. Mutation of Ser-282 and Ser-559 to alanine (S282A, S559A) resulted in ligand independent activation of ERα as determined by both ERE-driven reporter gene assays and endogenous pS2 gene expression in transiently transfected HeLa cells. Mutation of Ser-46/47 or Ser-294 to alanine markedly reduced estradiol dependent reporter activation. Additionally protein kinase CK2 was identified as a kinase that phosphorylated ERα at S282 and S559 using motif analysis, in vitro kinase assays, and incubation of cells with CK2 kinase inhibitor.


These novel ERα phosphorylation sites represent new means for modulation of ERα activity. S559 represents the first phosphorylation site identified in the extreme C-terminus (F domain) of a steroid receptor.