Epidermal growth factor stimulation of RPE cell survival: contribution of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways

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Epidermal growth factor (EGF) previously has been shown to stimulate short-term survival in vitro of cells derived from the native amphibian retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). In the present experiments, we have examined intracellular signaling pathways responsible for mediating these survival-specific growth factor effects, distinct from proliferative effects, using the human epithelial cell line RPE D407. When maintained as single cells in suspension culture in the absence of serum and exogenous survival factors, RPE D407 cell viability gradually declined over a 3–4 day period as a result of apoptotic cell death, a pattern similar to that seen for eye-derived RPE cells. Exposure to EGF (50 ng ml−1) enhanced cell survival by nearly 40% and caused a parallel increase in the tyrosine phosphate content of the EGF receptor (EGFR), as determined by immunoprecipitation and Western blotting. Both effects were completely blocked by 1 μm AG1478, an EGFR-selective tyrosine kinase inhibitor. EGF also stimulated phosphorylation of the phosphatidylinositol 3′-kinase (PI3K)-dependent effector kinase Akt, as well as that of the MEK-dependent mitogen-activated kinase (MAPK), extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). Furthermore, EGF-induced protection was substantially reduced by either the PI3K inhibitor LY294002 (25 μm) or the MEK inhibitor U0126 (10 μm), under conditions in which phosphorylation of Akt and ERK1/2, respectively, was blocked. Our results indicate that EGF-stimulated survival of RPE D407 cells takes place as a result of signaling through both PI3K and ERK/MAPK pathways. Further, residual anti-apoptotic activity stimulated by EGF in the presence of both blockers suggests that additional as yet unidentified growth factor-dependent survival pathways exist.

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