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Neoplasia. 2004 Sep-Oct;6(5):603-10.

Activation of the Erk pathway is required for TGF-beta1-induced EMT in vitro.

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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, 2220 Pierce Avenue South, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.


Transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) can be tumor-suppressive through the activation of the Smad-mediated signaling pathway. TGF-beta1 can also enhance tumor progression by stimulating epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) through additional pathways. EMT is characterized by the acquisition of a fibroblast-like cell morphology, dissolution of tight junctions, disruption of adherence junctions, and formation of actin stress fibers. There is evidence linking the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways to the induction of TGF-beta1-mediated EMT. However, the role of Erk in the induction of TGF-beta1-mediated EMT remains unclear. TGF-beta1 treatment of normal murine mammary gland (NMuMG) epithelial cells resulted in increased gene expression of Ras, Raf, MEK1/2, and Erk1/2, as shown by microarray analysis and real-time polymerase chain reaction. Upon 24 and 48 hours of treatment with TGF-beta1, NMuMG and mouse cortical tubule (MCT) epithelial cells underwent EMT as shown by changes in cell morphology, delocalization of zonula occludens-1 and E-cadherin from cell-cell junctions, and formation of actin stress fibers. TGF-beta1 treatment also resulted in increased levels of phosphorylated Erk and Erk kinase activity. Treatment with an MEK inhibitor, U0126, inhibited increased Erk phosphorylation and kinase activity, and blocked TGF-beta1-induced EMT in both cell lines. These data show that TGF-beta1 induces the activation of the Erk signaling pathway, which is required for TGF-beta1-mediated EMT in vitro.

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