ERK and p38MAPK pathways regulate myosin light chain phosphatase and contribute to Ca2+ sensitization of intestinal smooth muscle contraction

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Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), including extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (ERK) and p38MAPK, are known regulators of smooth muscle contractility. The contraction of smooth muscle is mainly regulated by the phosphorylation of regulatory light chains of myosin II (LC20), which is driven by the balance between myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) and myosin light chain phosphatase (MLCP). We hypothesized that one possible mechanism for MAPK-dependent modulation of intestinal smooth muscle contractility is via the regulation of MLCP activity.


Contractile responses to carbachol (CCh) and effects of MAPK inhibitors on CCh-induced contractions were assessed with isolated rat ileal longitudinal smooth muscle strips. Biochemical assessments of MLCP activity and myosin phosphatse targeting subunit (MYPT1) and CPI-17 phosphorylations were completed.

Key Results

Treatment of ileal smooth muscle with PD98059 (10 μM; MEK inhibitor) or SB203580 (10 μM; p38MAPK inhibitor) significantly inhibited CCh-induced contractile force. Decreased MLCP activity was observed during sustained contractions induced by CCh; the MLCP activity was recovered by treatment with PD98059 and SB203580. However, MYPT1 (Thr697 and Thr855) and CPI-17 (Thr38) phosphorylations were not affected. Application of ML-7 (MLCK inhibitor) during CCh-induced sustained contraction elicited an MLCP-dependent relaxation, the rate of which was accelerated by application of PD98059 and SB203580 with proportional changes in LC20 phosphorylation levels but not MYPT1 phosphorylation (Thr697 or Thr855).

Conclusions & Inferences

ERK and p38MAPK contribute to CCh-induced sustained contraction in a LC20 phosphorylation dependent manner. Moreover, both kinases inhibit MLCP activity possibly by a novel mechanism.

Conclusions & Inferences

The manuscript deals with a new mechanism of regulatory signaling to modulate gastrointestinal (GI) smooth muscle contractility. Specifically, we identify that mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) may provide novel regulation of myosin phosphatase activity and calcium sensitization in GI smooth muscle.

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