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Mol Cell Proteomics. 2012 Jun;11(6):M111.013292. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M111.013292. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

Cross-talk between receptor tyrosine kinase and tumor necrosis factor-α signaling networks regulates apoptosis but not proliferation.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Although many of the signaling networks activated by receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and cytokine receptors are well understood, how these networks interconnect is much less clear. We set out to determine how cells respond to simultaneous exposure to opposing signals and how their downstream networks process this information. Using six isogenic cell lines, each stably transfected with a different RTK, we found that, in each case, the cognate growth factor induced proliferation, whereas TNFα induced apoptosis. Surprisingly, when the cells were treated simultaneously with growth factor and TNFα, the growth factor enhanced, rather than antagonized, TNFα-induced cell death. In contrast, TNFα had no effect on growth factor-induced proliferation, suggesting that cross-talk between these networks is unidirectional. A quantitative, system-wide study of signaling at early and late time points corroborated this observation: proteins in the RTK networks were not affected by TNFα treatment, but proteins in the TNFα network were affected by growth factors. These studies also highlighted the stress mitogen-activated protein kinase proteins p38 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase as the key nodes of signal integration, and their activation states at an early time point correlated well with subsequent measurements of apoptosis. Knocking down cRaf reduced the growth factor enhancement of TNFα-induced apoptosis, highlighting its role as a regulator of network cross-talk upstream of p38 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase. Overall, we found that when cells encounter conflicting stimuli, their phenotypic response is determined not by the sum of isolated processes, but by how their signaling networks interconnect. This underscores the need to build mechanistic models of network integration as a first step in predicting cellular behavior in complex settings and in rationally designing combination therapies.

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