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J Biol Chem. 2003 Jan 17;278(3):1936-45. Epub 2002 Oct 22.

Potential involvement of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 and 2 in encystation of a primitive eukaryote, Giardia lamblia. Stage-specific activation and intracellular localization.

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Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida 32826-2362, USA.


Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways are major signaling systems by which eukaryotic cells convert environmental cues to intracellular events such as proliferation and differentiation. We have identified Giardia lamblia homologues of two members of the MAPK family ERK1 and ERK2. Functional characterization of giardial ERK1 and ERK2 revealed that both kinases were expressed in trophozoites and encysting cells as 44- and 41-kDa polypeptides, respectively, and were catalytically active. Analysis of the kinetic parameters of the recombinant proteins showed that ERK2 is approximately 5 times more efficient than ERK1 in phosphorylating myelin basic protein as a substrate, although the phosphorylating efficiency of the native ERK1 and ERK2 appeared to be the same. Immunofluorescence analysis of the subcellular localization of ERK1 and ERK2 in trophozoites showed ERK1 staining mostly in the median body and in the outer edges of the adhesive disc and ERK2 staining in the nuclei and in the caudal flagella. Our study also showed a noticeable change in the subcellular distribution of ERK2 during encystation, which became more punctate and mostly cytoplasmic, but no significant change in the ERK1 localization at any time during encystation. Interestingly, both ERK1 and ERK2 enzymes exhibited a significantly reduced kinase activity during encystation reaching a minimum at 24 h, except for an initial approximately 2.5-fold increase in the ERK1 activity at 2 h, which resumed back to the normal levels at 48 h despite no apparent change in the expression level of either one of these kinases in encysting cells. A reduced concentration of the phosphorylated ERK1 and ERK2 was also evident in these cells at 24 h. Our study suggests a functional distinction between ERK1 and ERK2 and that these kinases may play a critical role in trophozoite differentiation into cysts.

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