polo and CDC5 are two genes required for passage through mitosis in Drosophila melanogaster and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, respectively. Both genes encode structurally related protein kinases that have been implicated in regulating the function of the mitotic spindle. Here, we report the characterization of a human protein kinase that displays extensive sequence similarity to Drosophila polo and S. cerevisiae Cdc5; we refer to this kinase as Plk1 (for polo-like kinase 1). The largest open reading frame of the Plk1 cDNA encodes a protein of 68,254 daltons, and a protein of this size is detected by immunoblotting of HeLa cell extracts with monoclonal antibodies raised against the C-terminal part of Plk1 expressed in Escherichia coli. Northern blot analysis of RNA isolated from human cells and mouse tissues shows that a single Plk1 mRNA of 2.3 kb is highly expressed in tissues with a high mitotic index, consistent with a possible function of Plk1 in cell proliferation. The Plk1 gene maps to position p12 on chromosome 16, a locus for which no associations with neoplastic malignancies are known. The Plk1 protein levels and its distribution change during the cell cycle, in a manner consistent with a role of Plk1 in mitosis. Thus, like Drosophila polo and S. cerevisiae Cdc5, human Plk1 is likely to function in cell cycle progression.

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