Mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases are regarded as switch kinases in the phosphorylation cascade initiated by various agonists. We have investigated whether endothelins (ET), which are constrictor and mitogenic isopeptides, can increase MAP kinase activity in rat mesangial cells, using bovine myelin basic protein (MBP) as a substrate for an in vitro kinase assay. Treatment of quiescent mesangial cells with ET-1 rapidly stimulated a kinase activity which phosphorylated exogenous MBP. This stimulation was dose-dependent, with threshold responses at 1 nM-ET-1. Epidermal growth factor and thrombin also activated this kinase in mesangial cells. We also examined the ET signal transduction pathways leading to activation of MBP kinase. Pertussis toxin had no effect on ET-stimulated MBP kinase activity. Stimulation of protein kinase C by phorbol ester increased MBP kinase activity, and down-regulation of PKC partially inhibited ET-stimulated MBP kinase as well as phorbol ester-stimulated MBP kinase activity. Interestingly, genestein, an inhibitor of protein tyrosine kinases, partially inhibited MBP kinase stimulated by ET but not by phorbol esters. These results suggest that ET stimulates MBP kinase activity in rat mesangial cells via at least two pathways: one which is protein kinase C-dependent and a second one that involves a protein tyrosine kinase. Finally, by raising rabbit antibodies against the two forms of MAP kinase, p44mapk and p42mapk, we demonstrated that both isoforms are expressed in mesangial cells. Antibody alpha 1 Cp42 specifically immunoprecipitated p42mapk and allowed us to demonstrate that ET stimulates MBP kinase activity in the p42mapk immunocomplex. In conclusion, we have provided evidence that, in rat mesangial cells, MAP kinases are rapidly activated by ET-1, a regulatory process that involves at least protein kinase C activation and also a contribution of a tyrosine kinase not yet characterized.

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