• cytokines;
  • kinase cascade;
  • MAPKAP kinase-2;
  • mRNA degradation;
  • signal transduction

Stabilization of mRNAs contributes to the strong and rapid induction of genes in the inflammatory response. The signaling mechanisms involved were investigated using a tetracycline-controlled expression system to determine the half-lives of interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8 mRNAs. Transcript stability was low in untreated HeLa cells, but increased in cells expressing a constitutively active form of the MAP kinase kinase kinase MEKK1. Destabilization and signal-induced stabilization was transferred to the stable β-globin mRNA by a 161-nucleotide fragment of IL-8 mRNA which contains an AU-rich region, as well as by defined AU-rich elements (AREs) of the c-fos and GM-CSF mRNAs. Of the different MEKK1-activated signaling pathways, no significant effects on mRNA degradation were observed for the SAPK/JNK, extracellular regulated kinase and NF-κB pathways. Selective activation of the p38 MAP kinase (=SAPK2) pathway by MAP kinase kinase 6 induced mRNA stabilization. A dominant-negative mutant of p38 MAP kinase interfered with MEKK1 and also IL-1-induced stabilization. Furthermore, an active form of the p38 MAP kinase-activated protein kinase (MAPKAP K2 or MK2) induced mRNA stabilization, whereas a negative interfering MK2 mutant interfered with MAP kinase kinase 6-induced stabilization. These findings indicate that the p38 MAP kinase pathway contributes to cytokine/stress-induced gene expression by stabilizing mRNAs through an MK2-dependent, ARE-targeted mechanism.