The Journal of biological chemistry

Paclitaxel induces prolonged activation of the Ras/MEK/ERK pathway independently of activating the programmed cell death machinery.

PMID 11278851


Paclitaxel is a widely used chemotherapeutic agent and is known to induce programmed cell death (apoptosis) in a variety of cell types, but the precise underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. To elucidate these mechanisms, we challenged human esophageal squamous cancer cell lines with paclitaxel and investigated its effects upon signal transduction pathways. Physiologically relevant concentrations of paclitaxel (1-1,000 nm) induced apoptosis. All three mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) family members, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), p38 MAPK, and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) were activated upon paclitaxel treatment. Interestingly, JNK activation and p38 MAPK activation were delayed and peaked at 48 h, whereas ERK activity was sustained over 72 h. In addition, Ras activation and MAPK/ERK kinase (MEK) phosphorylation were observed in concordance with ERK activation. While ERK activation was completely ablated by MEK inhibitors, immunoprecipitation and Western blot analysis revealed that neither MEK-1 nor MEK-2 was involved, but instead another member of the MEK family may potentially participate. Although pretreatment with a general caspase inhibitor, benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-fluoromethylketone rescued the cell death, it did not prevent Ras or ERK activation. Furthermore, inhibition of JNK, p38 MAPK, or MEK did not alter PARP cleavage and the cell death induced by paclitaxel. These results in aggregate suggest that the delayed activation of JNK, p38 MAPK, and ERK was not linked to activation of the cell death machinery.