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Nucleic Acids Res. Jan 15, 1998; 26(2): 486–489.
PMCID: PMC147296

Activation of stress-activated MAP protein kinases up-regulates expression of transgenes driven by the cytomegalovirus immediate/early promoter.


The immediate/early promoter/enhancer of cytomegalovirus (CMV promoter) is one of the most commonly used promoters for expression of transgenes in eukaryotic cells. In practice, the CMV promoter is often thought of as a constitutively active unregulated promoter. However, we have observed that transcription from the CMV promoter can be up-regulated by a variety of environmental stresses. Many forms of cellular stress stimulate MAP kinase signalling pathways, resulting in activation of stress-activated protein kinases [SAPKs, also called Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs)] and p38 kinases. We have found that the same conditions that lead to activation of SAPK/JNKs and p38 kinases can also dramatically increase expression from the CMV promoter. Inhibitors of p38 kinases abolished basal transcription from the CMV promoter and completely blocked stress-induced up-regulation of the CMV promoter. Overexpression of a dominant negative JNK kinase had no effect on basal transcription, but significantly reduced up-regulation caused by stress. These results have grave implications for use of the CMV promoter. If the CMV promoter can be up-regulated by cellular stresses, inadvertent activation of the stress kinase pathways may complicate, if not invalidate, the interpretation of a wide range of experiments.

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Selected References

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