Investigation of Inducible Mitogen and Stress Activated Protein Kinase 1 (MSK1) and Histone H3 Phosphorylation by the RAS-MAPK Pathway in Cancer Cells

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Espino, Paula
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The RAS-mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway is an essential signaling mechanism that regulates cellular processes and culminates in the activation of specific gene expression programs. Alterations in the RAS-MAPK signaling cascade can modify epigenetic programs and confer advantages in cell growth and transformation. In fact, deregulation of the cascade is a key event in tumour development with 30% of human cancers harbouring RAS mutations. In breast and pancreatic epithelial cancers, characterization of an aberrant RAS-MAPK pathway has focused on upstream mediators such as receptors and oncogenic RAS molecules but the impact of downstream targets remain poorly defined. Stimulation of the RAS-RAF-MEK-MAPK pathway leads to activation of mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinases 1 and 2 (MSK1/2) which are responsible for the phosphorylation of histone H3 on S10 and S28. We postulate that deregulation of the RAS-MAPK pathway produced by constitutive activation and/ or over-expression of upstream components or mitogen stimulation consequently leads to enhanced MSK1 activity and elevated histone H3 phosphorylation levels. We further hypothesize that MSK1-mediated H3 phosphorylation is critical for immediate early gene (IEG) expression, Ras-driven transformation and is associated with regulatory regions upon gene transcription. In mouse fibroblasts, we present evidence for the critical involvement of MSK1 and H3 phosphorylation as mediators that bridge the aberrant signals driven by the RAS-MAPK pathway with nucleosomal modifications, chromatin remodeling, IEG expression and malignant transformation. We then examined if activation of RAS-MAPK signaling in breast cancer cells elicits similar molecular events. We demonstrate that the RAS-MAPK pathway is induced and enhances the association of MSK1 and H3 phosphorylation on the IEG Trefoil Factor 1 resulting in transcriptional activation. We further observed that mutated K-RAS expression did not correlate with genomic instability or altered signaling in pancreatic cancer cell lines while overexpressed HER2 and EGFR breast cancer cell lines generally exhibit upregulated ERK1/2 and H3 phosphorylation levels. Taken together, our studies contribute to the further understanding of MSK-mediated transcriptional activation in response to RAS-MAPK signaling in oncogene-transformed and cancer cell lines. Inhibition of MSK activity may be an unexplored avenue for combination cancer therapy with abnormal RAS-MAPK signaling pathways.
cell signaling, MSK1, H3 phosphorylation, chromatin, cancer, gene expression
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