Urokinase receptor and fibronectin regulate the ERKMAPK to p38MAPK activity ratios that determine carcinoma cell proliferation or dormancy in vivo

J. A. Aguirre-Ghiso, D. Liu, A. Mignatti, K. Kovalski, L. Ossowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

408 Scopus citations


We discovered that a shift between the state of tumorigenicity and dormancy in human carcinoma (HEp3) is attained through regulation of the balance between two classical mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-signaling pathways, the mitogenic extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) and the apoptotic/growth suppressive stress-activated protein kinase 2 (p38MAPK), and that urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) is an important regulator of these events. This is a novel function for uPAR whereby, when expressed at high level, it enters into frequent, activating interactions with the 5/31-integrin, which facilitates the formation of insoluble fibronectin (FN) fibrils. Activation of α5/β1-integrin by uPAR generates persistently high level of active ERK necessary for tumor growth in vivo. Our results show that ERK activation is generated through a convergence of two pathways: a positive signal through uPAR-activated α5β1, which activates ERK, and a signal generated by the presence of FN fibrils that suppresses p38 activity. When fibrils are removed or their assembly is blocked, p38 activity increases. Low uPAR derivatives of HEp3 cells, which are growth arrested (dormant) in vivo, have a high p38/ERK activity ratio, but in spite of a similar level of α5β1-integrin, they do not assemble FN fibrils. However, when p38 activity is inhibited by pharmacological (SB203580) or genetic (dominant negative-p38) approaches, their ERK becomes activated, uPAR is overexpressed, α5β1-integrins are activated, and dormancy is interrupted. Restoration of these properties in dormant cells can be mimicked by a direct re-expression of uPAR through transfection with a uPAR-coding plasmid. We conclude that overexpression of uPAR and its interaction with the integrin are responsible for generating two feedback loops; one increases the ERK activity that feeds back by increasing the expression of uPAR. The second loop, through the presence of FN fibrils, suppresses p38 activity, further increasing ERK activity. Together these results indicate that uPAR and its interaction with the integrin should be considered important targets for induction of tumor dormancy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)863-879
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Biology of the Cell
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001


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