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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jan 6;101(1):147-52. Epub 2003 Dec 23.

Differentiation stage-specific activation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase isoforms in primary human erythroid cells.

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Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


p38alpha, p38beta, p38gamma, and p38delta are four isoforms of p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase (MAPK) involved in multiple cellular functions such as cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and inflammation response. In the present study, we examined the mRNA expression pattern of each of the four isoforms during erythroid differentiation of primary erythroid progenitors. We show that p38alpha and p38gamma transcripts are expressed in early hematopoietic progenitors as well as in late differentiating erythroblasts, whereas p38delta mRNA is only expressed and active during the terminal phase of erythroid differentiation. On the other hand, p38beta is minimally expressed in early CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitors but not expressed in lineage-committed erythroid progenitors. We also determined the phosphorylation/activation of p38alpha, MAPK kinase 3/6, and MAPKAP-2 in response to erythropoietin and stem cell factor. We found that phosphorylation of p38alpha, MAPK kinase kinase 3/6 and MAPKAP-2 occurs only upon growth factor withdrawal in primary erythroid progenitors. Moreover, our data indicate that activation of p38alpha does not induce apoptosis or promote proliferation of erythroid progenitors. On the other hand, under steady-state culture conditions, both p38alpha and p38delta isoforms are increasingly phosphorylated activated in the terminal phase of differentiation. This increased phosphorylation/activity was accompanied by up-regulation of heat shock protein 27 phosphorylation. Finally, we demonstrate that tumor necrosis factor alpha, an inflammatory cytokine that is modulated by p38alpha, is expressed by differentiating erythroblasts and inhibition of p38alpha or tumor necrosis factor alpha results in reduction in differentiation. Taken together, our data demonstrate that both p38alpha and delta isoforms function to promote the late-stage differentiation of primary erythroid progenitors and are likely to be involved in functions related to erythrocyte membrane remodeling and enucleation.

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