Oncogenic tyrosine kinase NPM/ALK induces activation of the MEK/ERK signaling pathway independently of c-Raf

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Abstract

The mechanisms of cell transformation mediated by the highly oncogenic, chimeric NPM/ALK tyrosine kinase remain only partially understood. Here we report that cell lines and native tissues derived from the NPM/ALK-expressing T-cell lymphoma (ALK+ TCL) display phosphorylation of the extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (ERK) 1/2 complex. Transfection of BaF3 cells with NPM/ALK induces phosphorylation of EKR1/2 and of its direct activator mitogen-induced extracellular kinase (MEK) 1/2. Depletion of NPM/ALK by small interfering RNA (siRNA) or its inhibition by WHI-154 abrogates the MEK1/2 and ERK1/2 phosphorylation. The NPM/ALK-induced MEK/ERK activation is independent of c-Raf as evidenced by the lack of MEK1/2 and ERK1/2 phosphorylation upon c-Raf inactivation by two different inhibitors, RI and ZM336372, and by its siRNA-mediated depletion. In contrast, ERK1/2 activation is strictly MEK1/2 dependent as shown by suppression of the ERK1/2 phosphorylation by the MEK1/2 inhibitor U0126. The U0126-mediated inhibition of ERK1/2 activation impaired proliferation and viability of the ALK+ TCL cells and expression of antiapoptotic factor Bcl-xL and cell cycle-promoting CDK4 and phospho-RB. Finally, siRNA-mediated depletion of both ERK1 and ERK2 inhibited cell proliferation, whereas depletion of ERK 1 (but not ERK2) markedly increased cell apoptosis. These findings identify MEK/ERK as a new signaling pathway activated by NPM/ALK and indicate that the pathway represents a novel therapeutic target in the ALK-induced malignancies.

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