The Raf-MEK-ERK pathway is commonly activated in human cancers, largely attributable to the extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) being a common downstream target of growth factor receptors, Ras, and Raf. Elevation of these up-stream signals occurs frequently in a variety of malignancies and ERK kinases play critical roles in promoting cell proliferation. Therefore, inhibition of MEKmediated ERK activation is very appealing in cancer therapy. Consequently, numerous MEK inhibitors have been developed over the years. However, clinical trials have yet to produce overwhelming support for using MEK inhibitors in cancer therapy. Although complex reasons may have contributed to this outcome, an alternative possibility is that the MEK-ERK pathway may not solely provide proliferation signals to malignancies, the central scientific rationale in developing MEK inhibitors for cancer therapy. Recent developments may support this alternative possibility. Accumulating evidence now demonstrated that the MEK-ERK pathway contributes to the proper execution of cellular DNA damage response (DDR), a major pathway of tumor suppression. During DDR, the MEK-ERK pathway is commonly activated, which facilitates the proper activation of DDR checkpoints to prevent cell division. Inhibition of MEK-mediated ERK activation, therefore, compromises checkpoint activation. As a result, cells may continue to proliferate in the presence of DNA lesions, leading to the accumulation of mutations and thereby promoting tumorigenesis. Alternatively, reduction in checkpoint activation may prevent efficient repair of DNA damages, which may cause apoptosis or cell catastrophe, thereby enhancing chemotherapys efficacy. This review summarizes our current understanding of the participation of the ERK kinases in DDR.
Keywords: ERK1/2 kinases, DNA damage response (DDR), checkpoint activation, ATM, ATR, genome integrity, chemotherapy's efficacy, promoting tumorigenesis, apoptosis, DNA lesions
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