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EMBO J. 1999 Dec 15;18(24):6962-72.

Ectodomain shedding of TGF-alpha and other transmembrane proteins is induced by receptor tyrosine kinase activation and MAP kinase signaling cascades.

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  • 1Department of Growth Development, Program in Cell Biology, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


A variety of transmembrane proteins, such as transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and L-selectin, undergo shedding, i.e. cleavage of the ectodomain, resulting in release of a soluble protein. Although the physiological relevance of ectodomain shedding is well recognized, little is known about the signaling mechanisms activating this process. We show that growth factor activation of cell surface tyrosine kinase receptors induces ectodomain cleavage of transmembrane TGF-alpha through activation of the Erk MAP kinase signaling cascade without the need for new protein synthesis. In addition, expression of constitutively activated MEK1 or its downstream target Erk2 MAP kinase was sufficient to stimulate TGF-alpha shedding. The basal cleavage level in the absence of exogenous growth factor stimulation was due to p38 MAP kinase signaling. Accordingly, a constitutively activated MKK6, a p38 activator, activated TGF-alpha shedding in the absence of exogenous stimuli. In addition to TGF-alpha shedding, these mechanisms also mediate L-selectin and TNF-alpha cleavage. Thus, L-selectin shedding by neutrophils, induced by N-formylmethionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine, was strongly inhibited by inhibitors of Erk MAP kinase or p38 MAP kinase signaling. Our results indicate that activation of Erk and p38 signaling pathways may represent a general physiological mechanism to induce shedding of a variety of transmembrane proteins.

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