Molecular and cellular biology

The mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase cascade activation is a key signalling pathway involved in the regulation of G(1) phase progression in proliferating hepatocytes.

PMID 10454547


In this study, activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signalling pathway was analyzed in proliferating rat hepatocytes both in vivo after partial hepatectomy and in vitro following epidermal growth factor (EGF)-pyruvate stimulation. First, a biphasic MEK/ERK activation was evidenced in G(1) phase of hepatocytes from regenerating liver but not from sham-operated control animals. One occurred in early G(1) (30 min to 4 h), and the other occurred in mid-late G(1), peaking at around 10.5 h. Interestingly, the mid-late G(1) activation peak was located just before cyclin D1 induction in both in vivo and in vitro models. Second, the biological role of the MEK/ERK cascade activation in hepatocyte progression through the G(1)/S transition was assessed by adding a MEK inhibitor (PD 98059) to EGF-pyruvate-stimulated hepatocytes in primary culture. In the presence of MEK inhibitor, cyclin D1 mRNA accumulation was inhibited, DNA replication was totally abolished, and the MEK1 isoform was preferentially targeted by this inhibition. This effect was dose dependent and completely reversed by removing the MEK inhibitor. Furthermore, transient transfection of hepatocytes with activated MEK1 construct resulted in increased cyclin D1 mRNA accumulation. Third, a correlation between the mid-late G(1) MEK/ERK activation in hepatocytes in vivo after partial hepatectomy and the mitogen-independent proliferation capacity of these cells in vitro was established. Among hepatocytes isolated either 5, 7, 9, 12 or 15 h after partial hepatectomy, only those isolated from 12- and 15-h regenerating livers were able to replicate DNA without additional growth stimulation in vitro. In addition, PD 98059 intravenous administration in vivo, before MEK activation, was able to inhibit DNA replication in hepatocytes from regenerating livers. Taken together, these results show that (i) early induction of the MEK/ERK cascade is restricted to hepatocytes from hepatectomized animals, allowing an early distinction of primed hepatocytes from those returning to quiescence, and (ii) mid-late G(1) MEK/ERK activation is mainly associated with cyclin D1 accumulation which leads to mitogen-independent progression of hepatocytes to S phase. These results allow us to point to a growth factor dependency in mid-late G(1) phase of proliferating hepatocytes in vivo as observed in vitro in proliferating hepatocytes and argue for a crucial role of the MEK/ERK cascade signalling pathway.