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Molecular and Cellular Biology


Geisel School of Medicine


Persistent stimulation of specific protein kinase pathways has been proposed as a key feature of receptor tyrosine kinases and intracellular oncoproteins that signal neuronal differentiation of rat pheochromocytoma (PC12) cells. Among the protein serine/threonine kinases identified to date, the p42/44 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases have been highlighted for their potential role in signalling PC12 cell differentiation. We report here that retrovirus-mediated expression of GTPase-deficient, constitutively active forms of the heterotrimeric Gq family members, G alpha qQ209L and G alpha 16Q212L, in PC12 cells induces neuronal differentiation as indicated by neurite outgrowth and the increased expression of voltage-dependent sodium channels. Differentiation was not observed after cellular expression of GTPase-deficient forms of alpha i2 or alpha 0, indicating selectivity for the Gq family of G proteins. As predicted, overexpression of alpha qQ209L and alpha 16Q212L constitutively elevated basal phospholipase C activity approximately 10-fold in PC12 cells. Significantly, little or no p42/44 MAP kinase activity was detected in PC12 cells differentiated with alpha 16Q212L or alpha qQ209L, although these proteins were strongly activated following expression of constitutively active cRaf-1. Rather, a persistent threefold activation of the cJun NH2-terminal kinases (JNKs) was observed in PC12 cells expressing alpha qQ209L and alpha 16Q212L. This level of JNK activation was similar to that achieved with nerve growth factor, a strong inducer of PC12 cell differentiation. Supportive of a role for JNK activation in PC12 cell differentiation, retrovirus-mediated overexpression of cJun, a JNK target, in PC12 cells induced neurite outgrowth. The results define a p42/44 MAP kinase-independent mechanism for differentiation of PC12 cells and suggest that persistent activation of the JNK members of the proline-directed protein kinase family by GTPase-deficient G alpha q and G alpha 16 subunits is sufficient to induce differentiation of PC12 cells.



Original Citation

Heasley LE, Storey B, Fanger GR, et al. GTPase-deficient G alpha 16 and G alpha q induce PC12 cell differentiation and persistent activation of cJun NH2-terminal kinases. Mol Cell Biol. 1996;16(2):648-656. doi:10.1128/mcb.16.2.648