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J Exp Med. 2000 Mar 6;191(5):859-70.

Deficiency of the stress kinase p38alpha results in embryonic lethality: characterization of the kinase dependence of stress responses of enzyme-deficient embryonic stem cells.

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Department of Respiratory, Allergy, Immunology, Inflammation, and Infectious Diseases, Central Research, Pfizer, Inc., Groton, CT 06340, USA.


The mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase p38 is a key component of stress response pathways and the target of cytokine-suppressing antiinflammatory drugs (CSAIDs). A genetic approach was employed to inactivate the gene encoding one p38 isoform, p38alpha. Mice null for the p38alpha allele die during embryonic development. p38alpha(1/)- embryonic stem (ES) cells grown in the presence of high neomycin concentrations demonstrated conversion of the wild-type allele to a targeted allele. p38alpha(-/)- ES cells lacked p38alpha protein and failed to activate MAP kinase-activated protein (MAPKAP) kinase 2 in response to chemical stress inducers. In contrast, p38alpha(1/+) ES cells and primary embryonic fibroblasts responded to stress stimuli and phosphorylated p38alpha, and activated MAPKAP kinase 2. After in vitro differentiation, both wild-type and p38alpha(-/)- ES cells yielded cells that expressed the interleukin 1 receptor (IL-1R). p38alpha(1/+) but not p38alpha(-/)- IL-1R-positive cells responded to IL-1 activation to produce IL-6. Comparison of chemical-induced apoptosis processes revealed no significant difference between the p38alpha(1/+) and p38alpha(-/)- ES cells. Therefore, these studies demonstrate that p38alpha is a major upstream activator of MAPKAP kinase 2 and a key component of the IL-1 signaling pathway. However, p38alpha does not serve an indispensable role in apoptosis.

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