MEK-1 [MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) kinase-1] is an important signal transducing enzyme that is implicated in many aspects of cellular functions. In the present paper, we report that cellular polyamines regulate MEK-1 expression at the post-transcriptional level through the RNA-binding protein HuR (Hu-antigen R) in IECs (intestinal epithelial cells). Decreasing the levels of cellular polyamines by inhibiting ODC (ornithine decarboxylase) stabilized MEK-1 mRNA and promoted its translation through enhancement of the interaction between HuR and the 3′-untranslated region of MEK-1 mRNA, whereas increasing polyamine levels by ectopic ODC overexpression destabilized the MEK-1 transcript and repressed its translation by reducing the abundance of HuR–MEK-1 mRNA complex; neither intervention changed MEK-1 gene transcription via its promoter. HuR silencing rendered the MEK-1 mRNA unstable and inhibited its translation, thus preventing increases in MEK-1 mRNA and protein in polyamine-deficient cells. Conversely, HuR overexpression increased MEK-1 mRNA stability and promoted its translation. Inhibition of MEK-1 expression by MEK-1 silencing or HuR silencing prevented the increased resistance of polyamine-deficient cells to apoptosis. Moreover, HuR overexpression did not protect against apoptosis if MEK-1 expression was silenced. These results indicate that polyamines destabilize the MEK-1 mRNA and repress its translation by inhibiting the association between HuR and the MEK-1 transcript. Our findings indicate that MEK-1 is a key effector of the HuR-elicited anti-apoptotic programme in IECs.

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