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J Comp Neurol. 1998 Aug 31;398(3):373-92.

Immunolocalization of the mitogen-activated protein kinases p42MAPK and JNK1, and their regulatory kinases MEK1 and MEK4, in adult rat central nervous system.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Cephalon, Inc., West Chester, Pennsylvania 19380, USA.


Cell survival, death, and stress signals are transduced from the cell surface to the cytoplasm and nucleus via a cascade of phosphorylation events involving the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) family. We compared the distribution of p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p42MAPK) and its activator MAPK or ERK kinase (MEK1; involved in transduction of growth and differentiation signals), with c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK1) and its activator MEK4 (involved in transduction of stress and death signals) in the adult rat central nervous system. All four kinases were present in the cytoplasm, dendrites, and axons of neurons. The presence of p42MAPK and JNK1 in dendrites and axons, as well as in cell bodies, suggests a role for these kinases in phosphorylation and regulation of cytoplasmic targets. A high degree of correspondence was found between the regional distribution of MEK1 and p42MAPK. Immunostaining for MEK1 and p42MAPK was intense in olfactory structures, neocortex, hippocampus, striatum, midline, and interlaminar thalamic nuclei, hypothalamus, brainstem, Purkinje cells, and spinal cord. In addition to neurons, p42MAPK was also present in oligodendrocytes. Whereas MEK4 was ubiquitously distributed, JNK1 was more selective. Immunostaining for MEK4 and JNK1 was intense in the olfactory bulb, lower cortical layers, the cholinergic basal forebrain, most nuclei of the thalamus, medial habenula, and cranial motor nuclei. The distribution of MEK1 and p42MAPK proteins only partially overlapped with that of MEK4 and JNK1. This suggests that the growth/differentiation and death/stress pathways affected by these kinases may not necessarily act to counterbalance each other in response to extracellular stimuli. The differential distribution of these kinases may control the specificity of neuronal function to extracellular signals.

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