Several signaling pathways are activated by all-transretinoic acid (RA) to mediate induction of differentiation and apoptosis of malignant cells. In the present study we provide evidence that the p38 MAP kinase pathway is activated in a RA-dependent manner in the NB-4, acute promyelocytic leukemia, and the MCF-7, breast carcinoma, cell lines. RA treatment of cells induces a time- and dose-dependent phosphorylation of p38, and such phosphorylation results in activation of its catalytic domain. p38 activation is not inducible by RA in a variant NB4 cell line, NB-4.007/6, which is resistant to the effects of RA, suggesting a role for this pathway in the induction of RA responses. Our data also demonstrate that the small G-protein Rac1 is activated by RA and functions as an upstream regulator of p38 activation, whereas the MAPKAPK-2 serine kinase is a downstream effector for the RA-activated p38. To obtain information on the functional role of the Rac1/p38/MAPKAPK-2 pathway in RA signaling, the effects of pharmacological inhibition of p38 on RA-induced gene transcription and cell differentiation were determined. Our results indicate that treatment of cells with the SB203580 inhibitor does not inhibit RA-dependent gene transcription via retinoic acid response elements or induction of Stat1 protein expression. However, treatment with SB203580 or SB202190 strongly enhances RA-dependent induction of cell differentiation and RA-regulated growth inhibitory responses. Altogether, our findings demonstrate that the Rac1/p38 MAP kinase pathway is activated in a RA-dependent manner and exhibits negative regulatory effects on the induction of differentiation.
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