Systems biology takes an interdisciplinary approach to the systematic study of complex interactions in biological systems. This approach seeks to decipher the emergent behaviors of complex systems rather than focusing only on their constituent properties. As an increasing number of examples illustrate the value of systems biology approaches to understand the initiation, progression, and treatment of cancer, systems biologists from across Europe and the United States hope for changes in the way their field is currently perceived among cancer researchers. In a recent EU-US workshop, supported by the European Commission, the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, and the National Cancer Institute of the NIH, the participants discussed the strengths, weaknesses, hurdles, and opportunities in cancer systems biology.
Upon activation, ERKs translocate from the cytoplasm to the nucleus. This process is required for the induction of many cellular responses, yet the molecular mechanisms that regulate ERK nuclear translocation are not fully understood. We have used a mouse embryo fibroblast ERK1-knock-out cell line expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged ERK1 to probe the spatio-temporal regulation of ERK1. Real time fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy revealed that ERK1 nuclear accumulation increased upon serum stimulation, but the mobility of the protein in the nucleus and cytoplasm remained unchanged. Dimerization of ERK has been proposed as a requirement for nuclear translocation. However, ERK1-Delta4, the mutant shown consistently to be dimerization-deficient in vitro, accumulated in the nucleus to the same level as wild type (WT), indicating that dimerization of ERK1 is not required for nuclear entry and retention. Consistent with this finding, energy migration Förster resonance energy transfer and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy measurements in living cells did not detect dimerization of GFP-ERK1-WT upon activation. In contrast, the kinetics of nuclear accumulation and phosphorylation of GFP-ERK1-Delta4 were slower than that of GFP-ERK1-WT. These results indicate that the differential shuttling behavior of the mutant is a consequence of delayed phosphorylation of ERK by MEK rather than dimerization. Our data demonstrate for the first time that a delay in cytoplasmic activation of ERK is directly translated into a delay in nuclear translocation.
Regulating ERK activity is essential for normal cell proliferation to occur. In mammals and most vertebrates ERK activity is provided by ERK1 and ERK2 that are highly similar, ubiquitously expressed and share activators and substrates. By combining single and double silencings of ERK1 and ERK2 we recently demonstrated that the apparent dominant role of ERK2 to regulate cell proliferation was due to its markedly higher expression level than ERK1. The contribution of ERK1 was revealed when ERK2 activation was clamped to avoid compensating over-activation of ERK2. We found no evidences in the literature for insulated isoform-specific modules in the Ras/Raf/MEK signaling cascade that could activate specifically ERK1 or ERK2. Obviously in frogs all signal integration and fine modulation provided by three Ras and three Raf isoforms is conducted by only one MEK and one ERK isoform. In mammals, ERK1 and ERK2 display similar specific activities and are activated respectively to their expression levels. After integrating signals from Ras, Raf and MEK isoforms, ERK1 and ERK2 regulate positively cell proliferation according to their expression levels.
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