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J Biol Chem. 1998 Sep 18;273(38):24285-8.

Requirement of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase for neuronal differentiation in PC12 cells.

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Department of Biophysics, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8502, Japan.


Nerve growth factor (NGF) induces sustained activation of classical MAP kinase (MAPK, also known as ERK) and neuronal differentiation in PC12 cells, whereas epidermal growth factor (EGF) induces transient activation of ERK/MAPK and stimulates proliferation of the cells. Although previous studies showed that sustained activation of ERK/MAPK is important for neuronal differentiation of the cells, a recent report revealed that inhibition of the sustained phase of ERK/MAPK activation alone does not block neurite outgrowth caused by NGF. These results suggest requirement for an additional signaling pathway(s) triggered by NGF in neuronal differentiation. Here we show that NGF induces sustained activation of p38, a subfamily member of the MAPK superfamily, and that inhibition of the p38 pathway blocks neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells. Surprisingly, expression of constitutively active MAPK/ERK kinase (MAPKK, also known as MEK) results in p38 activation as well as ERK/MAPK activation, and a p38 inhibitor blocks neurite outgrowth caused by the constitutively active MAPKK/MEK. Moreover, constitutive activation of p38 is able to induce neurite outgrowth when combined with EGF treatment. These results reveal an essential role of p38 in neuronal differentiation in PC12 cells.

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