Novel crosstalk between ERK MAPK and p38 MAPK leads to homocysteine-NMDA receptor-mediated neuronal cell death


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Ranjana Poddar, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Department of Neurology, 1, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA. E-mail:


Hyperhomocysteinemia is an independent risk factor for both acute and chronic neurological disorders, but little is known about the underlying mechanisms by which elevated homocysteine can promote neuronal cell death. We recently established a role for NMDA receptor-mediated activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-MAPK in homocysteine-induced neuronal cell death. In this study, we examined the involvement of the stress-induced MAPK, p38 in homocysteine-induced neuronal cell death, and further explored the relationship between the two MAPKs, ERK and p38, in triggering cell death. Homocysteine-mediated NMDA receptor stimulation and subsequent Ca2+ influx led to a biphasic activation of p38 MAPK characterized by an initial rapid, but transient activation followed by a delayed and more prolonged response. Selective inhibition of the delayed p38 MAPK activity was sufficient to attenuate homocysteine-induced neuronal cell death. Using pharmacological and RNAi approaches, we further demonstrated that both the initial and delayed activation of p38 MAPK is downstream of, and dependent on activation of ERK MAPK. Our findings highlight a novel interplay between ERK and p38 MAPK in homocysteine-NMDA receptor-induced neuronal cell death.