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Biochem J. 1996 Sep 15;318 ( Pt 3):729-47.

Signal-transducing protein phosphorylation cascades mediated by Ras/Rho proteins in the mammalian cell: the potential for multiplex signalling.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08855, USA.


The features of three distinct protein phosphorylation cascades in mammalian cells are becoming clear. These signalling pathways link receptor-mediated events at the cell surface or intracellular perturbations such as DNA damage to changes in cytoskeletal structure, vesicle transport and altered transcription factor activity. The best known pathway, the Ras-->Raf-->MEK-->ERK cascade [where ERK is extracellular-signal-regulated kinase and MEK is mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase/ERK kinase], is typically stimulated strongly by mitogens and growth factors. The other two pathways, stimulated primarily by assorted cytokines, hormones and various forms of stress, predominantly utilize p21 proteins of the Rho family (Rho, Rac and CDC42), although Ras can also participate. Diagnostic of each pathway is the MAP kinase component, which is phosphorylated by a unique dual-specificity kinase on both tyrosine and threonine in one of three motifs (Thr-Glu-Tyr, Thr-Phe-Tyr or Thr-Gly-Tyr), depending upon the pathway. In addition to activating one or more protein phosphorylation cascades, the initiating stimulus may also mobilize a variety of other signalling molecules (e.g. protein kinase C isoforms, phospholipid kinases, G-protein alpha and beta gamma subunits, phospholipases, intracellular Ca2+). These various signals impact to a greater or lesser extent on multiple downstream effectors. Important concepts are that signal transmission often entails the targeted relocation of specific proteins in the cell, and the reversible formation of protein complexes by means of regulated protein phosphorylation. The signalling circuits may be completed by the phosphorylation of upstream effectors by downstream kinases, resulting in a modulation of the signal. Signalling is terminated and the components returned to the ground state largely by dephosphorylation. There is an indeterminant amount of cross-talk among the pathways, and many of the proteins in the pathways belong to families of closely related proteins. The potential for more than one signal to be conveyed down a pathway simultaneously (multiplex signalling) is discussed. The net effect of a given stimulus on the cell is the result of a complex intracellular integration of the intensity and duration of activation of the individual pathways. The specific outcome depends on the particular signalling molecules expressed by the target cells and on the dynamic balance among the pathways.

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