The sIgG+ lymphoblastoid B cell line CESS spontaneously produces a high amount of nerve growth factor (NGF) and expresses both high affinity (p140Trk-A) and low affinity (p75NTR) NGF receptors. Autocrine production of NGF maintains the survival of CESS cells through the continuous deactivation of p38 MAPK, an enzyme able to induce Bcl-2 phosphorylation and subsequent cytochrome c release and caspase activation. In this paper, we show that NGF induces transcriptional activation and synthesis of MAPK phosphatase 1 (MKP-1), a dual specificity phosphatase that dephosphorylates p38 MAPK, thus preventing Bcl-2 phosphorylation. Furthermore, NGF increases MKP-1 protein stability by preventing its degradation through the proteasome pathway. Following NGF stimulation, MKP-1 protein mainly localizes on mitochondria, suggesting an interaction with p38 MAPK in this compartment. Incubation of CESS cells with MKP-1-specific antisense oligonucleotides induces cell death, which was not prevented by exogenous NGF. By contrast, overexpression of native MKP-1, but not of its catalytically impaired form, inhibits apoptosis induced by NGF neutralization in CESS cells. Thus, the molecular mechanisms underlying the survival function of NGF in CESS B cell line predominantly consist in maintaining elevated levels of MKP-1 protein, which controls p38 MAPK activation.
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