The term, "extracellular signal-regulated kinases", is sometimes used as a synonym for mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), but has more recently been adopted for a specific subset of the mammalian MAPK family. In the MAPK/ERK pathway, Ras activates c-Raf, followed by MEK and then MAPK1/2 (below). Ras is typically activated by growth hormones through receptor tyrosine kinases and GRB2/SOS, but may also receive other signals. ERKs are known to activate many transcription factors and some downstream protein kinases. Disruption of the ERK pathway is common in cancers, especially Ras, c-Raf and receptors such as HER2.
Mitogen-activated protein kinase 1 (MAPK1) is also known as "extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2" (ERK2). Two similar (85% sequence identity) protein kinases were originally called ERK1 and ERK2. They were found during a search for protein kinases that are rapidly phosphorylated after activation of cell surface tyrosine kinases such as the epidermal growth factor receptor. Phosphorylation of ERKs leads to the activation of their kinase activity.
The molecular events linking cell surface receptors to activation of ERKs are complex. It was found that Ras GTP-binding proteins are involved in the activation of ERKs. Another protein kinase, Raf-1, was shown to phosphorylate a "MAPK kinase", thus qualifying as a "MAPK kinase kinase". The MAPK kinase was named "MAPK/ERK kinase" (MEK).
Receptor-linked tyrosine kinases, Ras, Raf, MEK and MAPK could be fitted into a signaling cascade linking an extracellular signal to MAPK activation. See: MAPK/ERK pathway.
Transgenic gene knockout mice lacking MAPK1 have major defects in early development.
Mitogen-activated protein kinase 3 (MAPK3) is also known as "extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1" (ERK1). Transgenic gene knockout mice lacking MAPK3 are viable and it is thought that MAPK1 can fulfill most MAPK3 functions in most cells. The main exception is in T cells. Mice lacking MAPK3 have reduced T cell development past the CD4+CD8+ stage.
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Animal intercellular signaling peptides and proteins