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J Biol Chem. 2004 Jan 9;279(2):1359-67. Epub 2003 Oct 23.

Activation of the pro-survival phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/AKT pathway by transforming growth factor-beta1 in mesenchymal cells is mediated by p38 MAPK-dependent induction of an autocrine growth factor.

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Department of Medicine, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) is a multifunctional cytokine involved in differentiation, growth, and survival of mesenchymal cells while inhibiting growth/survival of most other cell types. The mechanism(s) of pro-survival signaling by TGF-beta1 in mesenchymal cells is unclear. In this report, we demonstrate that TGF-beta1 protects against serum deprivation-induced apoptosis of mesenchymal cells isolated from patients with acute lung injury and of normal human fetal lung fibroblasts (IMR-90). TGF-beta receptor(s)-activated signaling in these cells involves rapid activation of the Smad and p38 MAPK pathways within minutes of TGF-beta1 treatment followed by a more delayed activation of the pro-survival phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-protein kinase B (PKB)/Akt pathway. Pharmacological inhibition of p38 MAPK with SB203580 or expression of a p38 kinase-deficient mutant protein inhibits TGF-beta1-induced PKB/Akt phosphorylation. Conditioned medium from TGF-beta1-treated cells rapidly induces PKB/Akt activation in an SB203580- and suramin-sensitive manner, suggesting p38 MAPK-dependent production of a secreted growth factor that activates this pro-survival pathway by an autocrine/paracrine mechanism. Inhibition of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-PKB/Akt pathway blocks TGF-beta1-induced resistance to apoptosis. These results demonstrate the activation of a novel TGF-beta1-activated pro-survival/anti-apoptotic signaling pathway in mesenchymal cells/fibroblasts that may explain cell-specific actions of TGF-beta1 and provide mechanistic insights into its pro-fibrotic and tumor-promoting effects.

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