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Venous ulcer fibroblasts have been demonstrated to have low growth rates in response to platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF). Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) is an important signal transduction mechanism that regulates growth, differentiation, and apoptosis in eukaryotic cells. PDGF binds PDGF receptors that activate a multitiered signaling cascade involving MAPK. We hypothesize that the growth regulation in venous ulcer fibroblasts is dependent on the MAPK extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway in the presence of PDGF. Fibroblasts (fb) were isolated from 8 patients with venous ulcers (w-fb) and the normal skin (n-fb) of the ipsilateral thigh via punch biopsies. Fb were plated at 1,500 cells/dish and treated with PDGF-AB (10 ng/mL) for 15 days. Growth rates were determined. Immunoblot analysis of MAPK ERK for n-fb and w-fb were analyzed. To determine if PDGF-stimulated w-fb and n-fb utilized the MAPK ERK pathway in a dependent manner, the upstream kinase MAPK kinase 1 (MEK 1) was inhibited by PD 98059. In addition, fb were treated with chronic venous ulcer wound fluid (WF) to study its effect on MAPK ERK. In the presence of PDGF, growth rates were substantially lower in w-fb than in n-fb, and MAPK was activated in 6/8 w-fb and in only 2/8 n-fb. Fibroblasts expressing MAPK had significantly reduced cell proliferation compared to fibroblasts not expressing MAPK (p = 0.023). PD 98059 significantly inhibited w-fb and n-fb cell proliferation from basal level, which was reversible with addition of PDGF. In neonatal fibroblasts WF demonstrated inhibition of MAPK ERK over time and addition of PD98059 was not additive. This study suggests that the MAPK ERK pathway is important for cell proliferation in venous ulcer fibroblasts. In the presence of PDGF, fibroblasts with decreased growth rate express MAPK, and proliferation is further abrogated with addition of MEK 1 inhibitor, suggesting the importance of the MAPK ERK pathway regulating w-fb and n-fb proliferation. Although the majority of w-fb activated the MAPK ERK pathway in the presence of PDGF, proliferation was significantly attenuated, indicating that other MAPK inhibitory pathways are competing. Venous ulcer wound fluid directly inhibits the MAPK ERK pathway, suggesting that the venous ulcer wound environment has negative trophic factors that effect fibroblasts proliferation and ulcer healing.