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J Biol Chem. 2004 Jul 9;279(28):29478-84. Epub 2004 Apr 6.

Mixed lineage kinase 3 (MLK3)-activated p38 MAP kinase mediates transforming growth factor-beta-induced apoptosis in hepatoma cells.

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  • 1Laboratory of Cell Regulation and Carcinogenesis, NCI, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Although transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1) acts via the Smad signaling pathway to initiate de novo gene transcription, the TGF-beta1-induced MAPK kinase activation that is involved in the regulation of apoptosis is less well understood. Even though the p38 MAP kinase and c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinases (JNKs) are involved in TGF-beta1-induced cell death in hepatoma cells, the upstream mediators of these kinases remain to be defined. We show here that the members of the mixed lineage kinase (MLK) family (including MLK1, MLK2, MLK3, and dual leucine zipper-bearing kinase (DLK)) are expressed in FaO rat hepatoma cells and are likely to act between p38 and TGF-beta receptor kinase in death signaling. TGF-beta1 treatment leads to an increase in MLK3 activity. Overexpression of MLK3 enhances TGF-beta1-induced apoptotic death in FaO cells and Hep3B human hepatoma cells, whereas expression of the dominant-negative forms of MLK3 suppresses cell death induced by TGF-beta1. The dominant-negative forms of MLK1 and -2 also suppress TGF-beta1-induced cell death. In MLK3-overexpressing cells, ERK, JNKs, and p38 MAP kinases were further activated in response to TGF-beta1 compared with the control cells. In contrast, overexpression of the dominant-negative MLK3 resulted in suppression of TGF-beta1-induced MAP kinase activation and TGF-beta1-induced caspase-3 activation. We also show that only the inhibition of the p38 pathway suppressed TGF-beta1-induced apoptosis. These observations support a role for MLKs in the TGF-beta1-induced cell death mechanism.

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