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Mol Biol Cell. 2001 Apr;12(4):863-79.

Urokinase receptor and fibronectin regulate the ERK(MAPK) to p38(MAPK) activity ratios that determine carcinoma cell proliferation or dormancy in vivo.

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Rochelle Belfer Chemotherapy Foundation Laboratory, Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York 10029, USA.


We discovered that a shift between the state of tumorigenicity and dormancy in human carcinoma (HEp3) is attained through regulation of the balance between two classical mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-signaling pathways, the mitogenic extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) and the apoptotic/growth suppressive stress-activated protein kinase 2 (p38(MAPK)), and that urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) is an important regulator of these events. This is a novel function for uPAR whereby, when expressed at high level, it enters into frequent, activating interactions with the alpha5beta1-integrin, which facilitates the formation of insoluble fibronectin (FN) fibrils. Activation of alpha5beta1-integrin by uPAR generates persistently high level of active ERK necessary for tumor growth in vivo. Our results show that ERK activation is generated through a convergence of two pathways: a positive signal through uPAR-activated alpha5beta1, which activates ERK, and a signal generated by the presence of FN fibrils that suppresses p38 activity. When fibrils are removed or their assembly is blocked, p38 activity increases. Low uPAR derivatives of HEp3 cells, which are growth arrested (dormant) in vivo, have a high p38/ERK activity ratio, but in spite of a similar level of alpha5beta1-integrin, they do not assemble FN fibrils. However, when p38 activity is inhibited by pharmacological (SB203580) or genetic (dominant negative-p38) approaches, their ERK becomes activated, uPAR is overexpressed, alpha5beta1-integrins are activated, and dormancy is interrupted. Restoration of these properties in dormant cells can be mimicked by a direct re-expression of uPAR through transfection with a uPAR-coding plasmid. We conclude that overexpression of uPAR and its interaction with the integrin are responsible for generating two feedback loops; one increases the ERK activity that feeds back by increasing the expression of uPAR. The second loop, through the presence of FN fibrils, suppresses p38 activity, further increasing ERK activity. Together these results indicate that uPAR and its interaction with the integrin should be considered important targets for induction of tumor dormancy.

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