Examining the mechanism of Erk nuclear translocation using green fluorescent protein

Angela M. Horgan, Philip J.S. Stork

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


In neuronal cells, the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase) cascade is an important mediator of neurotrophin signaling from cell surface receptors to the nucleus, resulting in changes in gene expression. Nuclear localization of Erk is thought to be required for these effects. To examine the mechanism and regulation of Erk nuclear translocation, we have created a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-labeled Erk2 construct, which provides a sensitive means to follow the movement of Erk from the cytoplasm to the nucleus following receptor-mediated MAP kinase activation. Using this system in PC12 cells, we have examined a number of mechanisms that have been implicated in regulating the translocation of Erk. In PC12 cells, NGF and EGF induce a rapid translocation of GFP-Erk that requires Ras and Mek. We have found that prolonged phosphorylation of Erk is not required for the rapid and early influx of Erk into the nucleus following growth factor stimulation. Furthermore, following influx, GFP-Erk rapidly returned to the cytoplasm regardless of its phosphorylation state. The release of Erk from its cytoplasmic activator, Mek, followed by the dimerization of Erk, was sufficient to stimulate nuclear uptake, whereas Erk kinase activity was dispensable. PKA activity has been reported to be required for Erk translocation in PC12 cells. However, PKA activity was also not necessary for the early translocation of Erk into the nucleus by NGF or Ras, but it was able to induce a small influx of Erk that could be measured with GFP-Erk2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-220
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2003


  • ERKs
  • GFP
  • Nuclear translocation
  • PC12 cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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