ERK1/2 (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase 1/2) MAPKs (mitogen-activated protein kinases) are tightly regulated by the cellular microenvironment in which they operate. Mxi2 is a p38α splice isoform capable of binding to ERK1/2 and ensuring their translocation to the nucleus. Therein Mxi2 sustains ERK1/2 phosphorylation levels and, as a consequence, ERK1/2 nuclear signals are enhanced. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this process are still unclear. In the present study, we show that Mxi2 prevents nuclear but not cytoplasmic phosphatases from binding to and dephosphorylating ERK1/2, disclosing an unprecedented mechanism for the spatial regulation of ERK1/2 activation. We also demonstrate that the kinetics of ERK1/2 extranuclear signals can be significantly altered by artificially tethering Mxi2 to the cytoplasm. In this case, Mxi2 abolishes ERK1/2 inactivation by cytoplasmic phosphatases and potentiates ERK1/2 functions at this compartment. These results highlight Mxi2 as a key spatial regulator of ERK1/2 functions, playing a pivotal role in the balance between ERK1/2 nuclear and cytoplasmic signals.
The exposure to non-thermal microwave electromagnetic fields generated by mobile phones affects the expression of many proteins. This effect on transcription and protein stability can be mediated by the MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) cascades, which serve as central signalling pathways and govern essentially all stimulated cellular processes. Indeed, long-term exposure of cells to mobile phone irradiation results in the activation of p38 as well as the ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) MAPKs. In the present study, we have studied the immediate effect of irradiation on the MAPK cascades, and found that ERKs, but not stress-related MAPKs, are rapidly activated in response to various frequencies and intensities. Using signalling inhibitors, we delineated the mechanism that is involved in this activation. We found that the first step is mediated in the plasma membrane by NADH oxidase, which rapidly generates ROS (reactive oxygen species). These ROS then directly stimulate MMPs (matrix metalloproteinases) and allow them to cleave and release Hb-EGF [heparin-binding EGF (epidermal growth factor)]. This secreted factor activates the EGF receptor, which in turn further activates the ERK cascade. Thus this study demonstrates for the first time a detailed molecular mechanism by which electromagnetic irradiation from mobile phones induces the activation of the ERK cascade and thereby induces transcription and other cellular processes.