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Research Highlights

December 2009

Protein That Controls Cell Growth Gives Good Oscillations

Findings featured in Molecular Systems Biology

ERK
Enlarge Image Change in ERK distribution after EGF addition. Cells expressing a green fluorescence ERK and a red fluorescence marker of the cytoplasm were treated with EGF for the time indicated at the top. Top panels are the original fused images. Bottom panels are the ratio of ERK:cytoplasm intensity. This shows that ERK is selectively concentrated in the nucleus in a periodic manner.

ERK (short for extracellular signal-regulated kinase) is a protein that plays a central role in cell response to growth factors. It has a critical role in regulating cell proliferation, so understanding ERK regulation is central to efforts to design new cancer drugs and other disease therapies. It's been extensively studied for several decades, but its regulation and dynamics are still not fully understood.

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have added to the understanding of ERK with proof that ERK oscillates within cells; that is, it cycles continuously in and out of a cell's nucleus in response to cellular growth cues. The study was done on human breast cells. The results, which were published and highlighted in Molecular Systems Biology, give researchers a more complete view of cell signaling pathways.

For more information and a video of the oscillations, see PNNL news release "ERK's Got Rhythm."

Acknowledgments: The research was funded by PNNL's Biomolecular Systems Initiative and the National Institutes of Health. The research team includes Harish Shankaran, Will Chrisler, Haluk Resat, and Steven Wiley, PNNL; and former PNNL staff members Danielle Ippolito, Nikki Bollinger, and Lee Opresko.

Reference: Shankaran H, DL Ippolito, WB Chrisler, H Resat, N Bollinger, LK Opresko, and HS Wiley.  2009. "Rapid and Sustained Nuclear-Cytoplasmic ERK Oscillations Induced by Epidermal Growth Factor."  Molecular Systems Biology 5(322), doi:10.1038/msb.2009.90


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