Elife. 2023 Oct 26;12:RP87958. doi: 10.7554/eLife.87958.
Catalytic signaling outputs of protein kinases are dynamically regulated by an array of structural mechanisms, including allosteric interactions mediated by intrinsically disordered segments flanking the conserved catalytic domain. The doublecortin-like kinases (DCLKs) are a family of microtubule-associated proteins characterized by a flexible C-terminal autoregulatory ‘tail’ segment that varies in length across the various human DCLK isoforms. However, the mechanism whereby these isoform-specific variations contribute to unique modes of autoregulation is not well understood. Here, we employ a combination of statistical sequence analysis, molecular dynamics simulations, and in vitro mutational analysis to define hallmarks of DCLK family evolutionary divergence, including analysis of splice variants within the DCLK1 sub-family, which arise through alternative codon usage and serve to ‘supercharge’ the inhibitory potential of the DCLK1 C-tail. We identify co-conserved motifs that readily distinguish DCLKs from all other calcium calmodulin kinases (CAMKs), and a ‘Swiss Army’ assembly of distinct motifs that tether the C-terminal tail to conserved ATP and substrate-binding regions of the catalytic domain to generate a scaffold for autoregulation through C-tail dynamics. Consistently, deletions and mutations that alter C-terminal tail length or interfere with co-conserved interactions within the catalytic domain alter intrinsic protein stability, nucleotide/inhibitor binding, and catalytic activity, suggesting isoform-specific regulation of activity through alternative splicing. Our studies provide a detailed framework for investigating kinome-wide regulation of catalytic output through cis-regulatory events mediated by intrinsically disordered segments, opening new avenues for the design of mechanistically divergent DCLK1 modulators, stabilizers, or degraders.