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J Exp Biol. 2003 Apr;206(Pt 7):1107-15.

Mitogen-activated protein kinases: new signaling pathways functioning in cellular responses to environmental stress.

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Department of Surgery, Surgical Research Laboratory, San Francisco General Hospital and University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94110, USA.


The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) superfamily consists of three main protein kinase families: the extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases (ERKs), the c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) and the p38 family of kinases. Each is proving to have major roles in the regulation of intracellular metabolism and gene expression and integral actions in many areas including growth and development, disease, apoptosis and cellular responses to external stresses. To date, this cellular signal transduction network has received relatively little attention from comparative biochemists, despite the high probability that MAPKs have critical roles in the adaptive responses to thermal, osmotic and oxygen stresses. The present article reviews the current understanding of the roles and regulation of ERKs, JNKs and p38, summarizes what is known to date about MAPK roles in animal models of anoxia tolerance, freeze tolerance and osmoregulation, and highlights the potential that studies of MAPK pathways have for advancing our understanding of the mechanisms of biochemical adaptation.

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