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Prog Neurobiol. 2000 May;61(1):45-60.

JNK and p38 stresskinases--degenerative effectors of signal-transduction-cascades in the nervous system.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Kiel, Germany.


The c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs, also called stress activated protein kinases. SAPKs) and p38 kinases constitute together with extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) the family of MAP kinases. Whereas the functions of JNKs under physiological conditions are largely unknown, there is raising evidence that JNKs are potent effectors of apoptosis or degeneration of neurons in vitro and in the brain. The activation of the inducible transcription factor c-Jun by N-terminal phosphorylation is a central event in JNK-mediated degenerative processes that depend on de novo protein synthesis. At the post-translational level, cytoplasmic degenerative actions of JNKs might comprise inhibition of Bcl-2 and steroid hormone-receptor signaling or hyperphosphorylation of tau; and at transcriptional level, JNKs might trigger the induction of the apoptotic effectors p53 and Fas-Ligand by phosphorylation of c-Jun. The role of p38 is the nervous system is poorly understood, but its activation is also considered as part of the neuronal stress response. This review informs about the genetic processing, the regulation of activity and the biochemical actions of JNK and p38 isoforms in general. In the second part, we summarize the findings on expression and activation of JNKs and p38 under neurodegenerative condition. A particular focus is also put on the putative function of JNK under physiological conditions and for neuroprotection.

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