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Nat Med. 2009 Jan;15(1):75-83. doi: 10.1038/nm.1893. Epub 2008 Dec 7.

A new type of ERK1/2 autophosphorylation causes cardiac hypertrophy.

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Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Würzburg, Versbacher Strasse 9, Würzburg, Germany.


The extracellular-regulated kinases ERK1 and ERK2 (commonly referred to as ERK1/2) have a crucial role in cardiac hypertrophy. ERK1/2 is activated by mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase-1 (MEK1) and MEK2 (commonly referred to as MEK1/2)-dependent phosphorylation in the TEY motif of the activation loop, but how ERK1/2 is targeted toward specific substrates is not well understood. Here we show that autophosphorylation of ERK1/2 on Thr188 directs ERK1/2 to phosphorylate nuclear targets known to cause cardiac hypertrophy. Thr188 autophosphorylation requires the activation and assembly of the entire Raf-MEK-ERK kinase cascade, phosphorylation of the TEY motif, dimerization of ERK1/2 and binding to G protein betagamma subunits released from activated G(q). Thr188 phosphorylation of ERK1/2 was observed in isolated cardiomyocytes induced to undergo hypertrophic growth, in mice upon stimulation of G(q)-coupled receptors or after aortic banding and in failing human hearts. Experiments using transgenic mouse models carrying mutations at the Thr188 phosphorylation site of ERK2 suggested a causal relationship to cardiac hypertrophy. We propose that specific phosphorylation events on ERK1/2 integrate differing upstream signals (Raf1-MEK1/2 or G protein-coupled receptor-G(q)) to induce cardiac hypertrophy.

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