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Keywords:

  • dilated cardiomyopathy;
  • heart;
  • leukemia inhibitory factor;
  • mitogen-activated protein kinase

Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways couple intrinsic and extrinsic signals to hypertrophic growth of cardiomyocytes. The MAPK kinase MEK5 activates the MAPK ERK5. To investigate the potential involvement of MEK5–ERK5 in cardiac hypertrophy, we expressed constitutively active and dominant-negative forms of MEK5 in cardiomyocytes in vitro. MEK5 induced a form of hypertrophy in which cardiomyocytes acquired an elongated morphology and sarcomeres were assembled in a serial manner. The cytokine leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), which stimulates MEK5 activity, evoked a similar response. Moreover, a dominant-negative MEK5 mutant specifically blocked LIF-induced elongation of cardiomyocytes and reduced expression of fetal cardiac genes without blocking other aspects of LIF-induced hypertrophy. Consistent with the ability of MEK5 to induce serial assembly of sarcomeres in vitro, cardiac-specific expression of activated MEK5 in transgenic mice resulted in eccentric cardiac hypertrophy that progressed to dilated cardiomyopathy and sudden death. These findings reveal a specific role for MEK5–ERK5 in the induction of eccentric cardiac hypertrophy and in transduction of cytokine signals that regulate serial sarcomere assembly.