The influence of hypo-osmotic cell swelling on the activity of the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases Erk-1 and Erk-2 (where Erk stands for extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase) was studied in cultured rat astrocytes. Hypo-osmotic treatment led within 10 min to an increased activity of Erk-1 and Erk-2, which became maximal at 20 min and returned to the basal level within 60 min. Moreover, exposure to hypo-osmotic conditions induced a biphasic increase in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i): a rapid peak-like increase was followed by a sustained plateau. The absence of extracellular Ca2+ completely abolished Erk activation as well as the plateau of the [Ca2+]i response after hypo-osmotic stimulation. Application of wortmannin and agents to elevate intracellular cAMP levels also completely blocked Erk activation but were without effect on the biphasic [Ca2+]i response to hypo-osmotic treatment of the cells, suggesting a role of PtdIns 3-kinase and the Ras/Raf pathway downstream of the calcium signal. Protein kinase C (PKC) and Ca2+/calmodulin (CaM)-dependent kinases are unlikely to play a role in the hypo-osmolarity-induced signalling towards MAP kinases, as revealed by the blockage of PKC and CaM kinases. Inhibition of tyrosine kinases, pertussis-toxin- or cholera-toxin-sensitive G-proteins and phospholipase C had no effect on the [Ca2+]i response; the Erk response to hypo-osmolarity was also largely unaltered. This is different from the swelling-induced MAP kinase activation in hepatocytes, which was shown to occur via a calcium-independent but G-protein- and tyrosine kinase-dependent mechanism. Thus osmo-signalling towards MAP kinases might exhibit cell-type-specific features.

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