Stress-Activated Protein Kinases Mediate Cell Migration in Human Airway Epithelial Cells

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Airway epithelial cell (AEC) repair immediately after injury requires coordinated cell spreading and migration at the site of injury. Stress-activated protein kinases such as p38 MAPK and c-Jun N-terminal Protein Kinase (JNK) modulate several responses to cell stress and injury, but their role in AEC migration is not clear. We examined migration in confluent 16HBE14o human AEC lines and in primary AEC grown on collagen-IV. Wounds were created by mechanical abrasion and followed to closure using digital microscopy. Inhibitors of either p38 extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 (PD98059), mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) (SB203580), or JNK (SP600125) could block cell migration substantially. Inhibiting JNK but not p38 MAPK or ERK1/2 blocked extension of cells into the wound region from the original line of injury. Initial migration was associated with phosphorylation of ERK, p38 MAPK, and JNK within 5–15 min. The downstream effector of p38, heat shock protein 27, also was phosphorylated rapidly after injury; phosphorylation could be blocked by prior treatment with SB203580 but not SP600125. The downstream effector of JNK, c-Jun, likewise was phosphorylated rapidly after injury and could be blocked by inhibiting JNK. Our data demonstrate that p38 MAPK, JNK, and ERK1/2 participate in the early stages of AEC migration.

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