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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2004 May;286(5):G736-46. Epub 2003 Dec 30.

Dual role of MEK/ERK signaling in senescence and transformation of intestinal epithelial cells.

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Département d'Anatomie et de Biologie Cellulaire, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, J1H 5N4, Canada.


The mitogen-activated protein kinase cascade operates downstream of Ras to convey cell-surface signals to the nucleus via nuclear translocation of ERK1 and ERK2. We and others have recently demonstrated that activation of ERK1/2 by growth factors is required for proliferation of intestinal epithelial crypt cells. However, it remained to be established whether ERK1/2 activation alone was sufficient to trigger intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) proliferation. To this aim, retrovirus encoding the hemagglutinin-tagged MAPK/ERK kinase (MEK)1 wild type (wtMEK), the upstream activator of ERK1/2, or a constitutively active mutant of MEK1 (MEK1-S218D/S222D; caMEK) were used to infect nonimmortalized human normal intestinal epithelial crypt cell cultures [human intestinal epithelial cells (HIEC)] and rodent immortalized intestinal crypt cells (IEC-6). Stable expression of caMEK but not wtMEK in HIEC led to the irreversible arrest of cellular proliferation (premature senescence). Concomitant with the onset of cell-cycle arrest was the induction of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors p21(Cip), p53, and p16(INK4A). By contrast, overexpression of caMEK in IEC-6 cells induced growth factor relaxation for DNA synthesis, promoted morphological transformation and growth in soft agar, and did not affect expression of p21(Cip), p53, and p16(INK4A). We provided evidences that ERK1b, an alternatively spliced isoform of ERK1, is activated and may contribute to the deregulation of contact inhibition cell growth and transformation of these cells. Constitutive activation of MEK in IECs can produce either premature senescence or forced mitogenesis depending on the integrity of a senescence program controlled by the cell cycle inhibitors p53, p16(INK4A), and p21(CIP).

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