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Keywords:

  • cachexia;
  • Lewis lung carcinoma;
  • proteolysis;
  • p38 MAPK

Upregulation of ubiquitin ligase atrogin1/MAFbx and muscle wasting are hallmarks of cancer cachexia; however, the underlying mechanism is undefined. Here, we describe a novel signalling pathway through which Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) induces atrogin1/MAFbx upregulation and muscle wasting. C2C12 myotubes treated with LLC-conditioned medium (LCM) rapidly activates p38 MAPK and AKT while inactivating FoxO1/3, resulting in atrogin1/MAFbx upregulation, myosin heavy chain loss, and myotube atrophy. The p38α/β MAPK inhibitor SB202190 blocks the catabolic effects. Upon activation, p38 associates with C/EBPβ resulting in its phosphorylation and binding to a C/EBPβ-responsive cis-element in the atrogin1/MAFbx gene promoter. The promoter activity is stimulated by LCM via p38β-mediated activation of the C/EBPβ-responsive cis-element, independent of the adjacent FoxO1/3-responsive cis-elements in the promoter. In addition, p38 activation is observed in the muscle of LLC tumour-bearing mice, and SB202190 administration blocks atrogin1/MAFbx upregulation and muscle protein loss. Furthermore, C/EBPβ−/− mice are resistant to LLC tumour-induced atrogin1/MAFbx upregulation and muscle wasting. Therefore, activation of the p38β MAPK–C/EBPβ signalling pathway appears a key component of the pathogenesis of LLC tumour-induced cachexia.