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Mol Cell Biol. 2005 Feb;25(3):865-78.

Direct and indirect interactions between calcineurin-NFAT and MEK1-extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 signaling pathways regulate cardiac gene expression and cellular growth.

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Division of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, 3333 Burnet Ave., MLC7020, Cincinnati, OH 45229-3039, USA.


MEK1, a member of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade that directly activates extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), induces cardiac hypertrophy in transgenic mice. Calcineurin is a calcium-regulated protein phosphatase that also functions as a positive regulator of cardiac hypertrophic growth through a direct mechanism involving activation of nuclear factor of activated T-cell (NFAT) transcription factors. Here we determined that calcineurin-NFAT and MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling pathways are interdependent in cardiomyocytes, where they directly coregulate the hypertrophic growth response. For example, genetic deletion of the calcineurin Abeta gene reduced the hypertrophic response elicited by an activated MEK1 transgene in the heart, while inhibition of calcineurin or NFAT in cultured neonatal cardiomyocytes also blunted the hypertrophic response driven by activated MEK1. Conversely, targeted inhibition of MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling in cultured cardiomyocytes attenuated the hypertrophic growth response directed by activated calcineurin. However, targeted inhibition of MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling did not directly affect calcineurin-NFAT activation, nor was MEK1-ERK1/2 activation altered by targeted inhibition of calcineurin-NFAT. Mechanistically, we show that MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling augments NFAT transcriptional activity independent of calcineurin, independent of changes in NFAT nuclear localization, and independent of alterations in NFAT transactivation potential. In contrast, MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling enhances NFAT-dependent gene expression through an indirect mechanism involving induction of cardiac AP-1 activity, which functions as a necessary NFAT-interacting partner. As a second mechanism, MEK1-ERK1/2 and calcineurin-NFAT proteins form a complex in cardiac myocytes, resulting in direct phosphorylation of NFATc3 within its C terminus. MEK1-ERK1/2-mediated phosphorylation of NFATc3 directly augmented its DNA binding activity, while inhibition of MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling reduced NFATc3 DNA binding activity. Collectively, these results indicate that calcineurin-NFAT and MEK1-ERK1/2 pathways constitute a codependent signaling module in cardiomyocytes that coordinately regulates the growth response through two distinct mechanisms.

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