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Potentiation of apoptosis by low dose stress stimuli in cells expressing activated MEK kinase 1


MEK kinases (MEKKs) are serine-threonine kinases that regulate sequential protein phosphorylation pathways involving mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), including members of the Jun kinase (JNK) family. MEKK1 is a 196 kDa protein that when cleaved by caspase-3-like proteases generates an active COOH-terminal kinase domain. Expression of the MEKK1 kinase domain is sufficient to induce apoptosis. Mutation of MEKK1 to prevent its proteolytic cleavage protects cells from MEKK1-mediated cell death even though the JNK pathway is still activated, indicating that JNK activation is not sufficient to induce cell death. The inducible acute expression at modest levels of the activated MEKK1 kinase domain can be used to potentiate the apoptotic response to low dose ultraviolet irradiation and cisplatin. Similarly, in L929 fibrosarcoma cells inducible acute expression of the kinase domain of MEKK1 markedly increased the cell death response to tumor necrosis factor α(TNFα). The findings demonstrate that acute expression of an active form of MEKK1 can potentiate the cell death response to external stress stimuli. Manipulation of MEKK1 proteolysis and its regulation of signal pathways involved in apoptosis has significant potential for anticancer therapies when used in combination with therapeutic agents at doses that alone have little or modest effects on cell viability.

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Widmann, C., Johnson, N., Gardner, A. et al. Potentiation of apoptosis by low dose stress stimuli in cells expressing activated MEK kinase 1. Oncogene 15, 2439–2447 (1997).

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  • MEK kinase 1
  • apoptosis
  • UVC
  • cisplatin

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