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J Biol Chem. 2011 Mar 18;286(11):9268-79. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.179903. Epub 2011 Jan 6.

The epidermal growth factor receptor mediates tumor necrosis factor-alpha-induced activation of the ERK/GEF-H1/RhoA pathway in tubular epithelium.

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  • 1Keenan Research Centre in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, and Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1W8, Canada.


Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α induces cytoskeleton and intercellular junction remodeling in tubular epithelial cells; the underlying mechanisms, however, are incompletely explored. We have previously shown that ERK-mediated stimulation of the RhoA GDP/GTP exchange factor GEF-H1/Lfc is critical for TNF-α-induced RhoA stimulation. Here we investigated the upstream mechanisms of ERK/GEF-H1 activation. Surprisingly, TNF-α-induced ERK and RhoA stimulation in tubular cells were prevented by epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibition or silencing. TNF-α also enhanced phosphorylation of the EGFR. EGF treatment mimicked the effects of TNF-α, as it elicited potent, ERK-dependent GEF-H1 and RhoA activation. Moreover, EGF-induced RhoA activation was prevented by GEF-H1 silencing, indicating that GEF-H1 is a key downstream effector of the EGFR. The TNF-α-elicited EGFR, ERK, and RhoA stimulation were mediated by the TNF-α convertase enzyme (TACE) that can release EGFR ligands. Further, EGFR transactivation also required the tyrosine kinase Src, as Src inhibition prevented TNF-α-induced activation of the EGFR/ERK/GEF-H1/RhoA pathway. Importantly, a bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation assay and electric cell substrate impedance-sensing (ECIS) measurements revealed that TNF-α stimulated cell growth in an EGFR-dependent manner. In contrast, TNF-α-induced NFκB activation was not prevented by EGFR or Src inhibition, suggesting that TNF-α exerts both EGFR-dependent and -independent effects. In summary, in the present study we show that the TNF-α-induced activation of the ERK/GEF-H1/RhoA pathway in tubular cells is mediated through Src- and TACE-dependent EGFR activation. Such a mechanism could couple inflammatory and proliferative stimuli and, thus, may play a key role in the regulation of wound healing and fibrogenesis.

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