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Prog Brain Res. 2008;170:167-76. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(08)00415-9.

Oxytocin receptor signalling.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


The great diversity of the expression sites and proposed function of the oxytocin (OXT) receptor (OXTR) is paralleled by a diversity of its signalling pathways, many of which have still remained unexplored. We have used different approaches to discover novel pathways. By means of a phosphoproteomics approach, we have detected several distinct OXT-induced changes in tyrosine as well as threonine phosphorylation states of intracellular protein in myometrial cells. The most prominent change involved dephosphorylation of a 95-kDa phosphothreonine moiety. By N-terminal amino acid microsequence analysis, this moiety was shown to correspond to eukaryotic translation factor eEF2. This protein is a key regulator of protein synthesis and mediates, upon dephosphorylation, the translocation step of peptide chain elongation. These findings define a novel mechanism by which OXT assumes a so far unrecognized trophic function. We next elucidated the intracellular pathway(s) involved. We found that this effect is not mediated by any of the known pathways known to induce eEF2 dephosphorylation (mTOR, ERK1/2 or p38) but by protein kinase C. Consistent with this idea, we also found that direct stimulation of protein kinase C with a phorbol ester induced eEF2 dephosphorylation in myometrial cells. Using phosphoERK antibodies, we discovered by Western blotting that OXT induced phosphorylation of a higher molecular weight ERK-related protein. We were able to show that this band corresponded to "big MAP kinase1" or ERK5. ERK5 is part of a distinct MAPK cascade and promotes expression of the myosin light chain gene and plays an obligatory role in muscle cell development and differentiation. The role of ERK5 in myometrium has remained unexplored, but it is likely to represent an important novel pathway mediating OXT's effects on smooth muscle function. Further elucidation of these novel signalling pathways will have significant relevance for the development of novel pathway-specific OXTR agonists and antagonists.

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