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Development. 2001 Dec;128(24):5075-84.

FGF-induced lens cell proliferation and differentiation is dependent on MAPK (ERK1/2) signalling.

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  • 1Save Sight Institute, and Department of Anatomy and Histology, Institute for Biomedical Research, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.


Members of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family induce lens epithelial cells to undergo cell division and differentiate into fibres; a low dose of FGF can stimulate cell proliferation (but not fibre differentiation), whereas higher doses of FGF are required to induce fibre differentiation. To determine if these cellular events are regulated by the same signalling pathways, we examined the role of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling in FGF-induced lens cell proliferation and differentiation. We show that FGF induced a dose-dependent activation of extracellular regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) as early as 15 minutes in culture, with a high (differentiating) dose of FGF stimulating a greater level of ERK phosphorylation than a lower (proliferating) dose. Subsequent blocking experiments using UO126 (a specific inhibitor of ERK activation) showed that activation of ERK is required for FGF-induced lens cell proliferation and fibre differentiation. Interestingly, inhibition of ERK signalling can block the morphological changes associated with FGF-induced lens fibre differentiation; however, it cannot block the synthesis of some of the molecular differentiation markers, namely, beta-crystallin. These findings are consistent with the in vivo distribution of the phosphorylated (active) forms of ERK1/2 in the lens. Taken together, our data indicate that different levels of ERK signalling may be important for the regulation of lens cell proliferation and early morphological events associated with fibre differentiation; however, multiple signalling pathways are likely to be required for the process of lens fibre differentiation and maturation.

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