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A guide to ERK dynamics, part 2: downstream decoding.

Biochemical Journal 2023 December 14
Signaling by the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway controls many cellular processes, including cell division, death, and differentiation. In this second installment of a two-part review, we address the question of how the ERK pathway exerts distinct and context-specific effects on multiple processes. We discuss how the dynamics of ERK activity induce selective changes in gene expression programs, with insights from both experiments and computational models. With a focus on single-cell biosensor-based studies, we summarize four major functional modes for ERK signaling in tissues: adjusting the size of cell populations, gradient-based patterning, wave propagation of morphological changes, and diversification of cellular gene expression states. These modes of operation are disrupted in cancer and other related diseases and represent potential targets for therapeutic intervention. By understanding the dynamic mechanisms involved in ERK signaling, there is potential for pharmacological strategies that not only simply inhibit ERK, but also restore functional activity patterns and improve disease outcomes.

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