Activation of the ERK1/2 signaling cascade by excitotoxic spinal cord injury

Chen-Guang Yu, Robert P Yezierski
Brain Research. Molecular Brain Research 2005 August 18, 138 (2): 244-55
The role of the ERK1/2 signal transduction pathway and related transcription factors in the regulation of gene expression and pain behavior following excitotoxic spinal cord injury (SCI) was examined. Specifically, phosphorylation of ERK1/2, activation of transcription factors NF-kB, ELK-1, and CREB, and gene expression of the neurokinin-1 receptor and NMDA receptor subunits NR1 and NR-2A were investigated. Excitotoxic injury was produced by intraspinal injection of quisqualic acid (QUIS) in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Western blots were used to evaluate phosphorylation and activation of ERK1/2 and transcription factors using phospho-specific or total antibodies. Real-time PCR was used to evaluate gene expression of NK-1R, NR-1, and NR-2A. Assessment of excessive grooming behavior was used to evaluate the presence of spontaneous pain behavior. Excitotoxic spinal injury resulted in: (1) increased phosphorylation of ERK1/2; (2) increased activation of NF-kB and phosphorylation of ELK-1; and (3) increased gene expression for the NK-1 receptor and NR1 and NR-2A subunits of the NMDA receptor. Blockade of the ERK cascade with the MEK inhibitor PD98059 inhibited phosphorylation of ELK-1, activation of NF-kB and gene expression of NR1, NR-2A and NK-1R, and prevented the development of excessive grooming behavior. The results have shown that excitotoxic spinal injury leads to the injury-induced activation of the ERK-->ELK-1 and NF-kB signaling cascades and transcriptional regulation of receptors important in the development of chronic pain. Blockade of this intracellular kinase cascade prevented the onset of injury-induced pain behavior.

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