The clinical syndrome of acute liver failure produced by fulminant viral hepatitis can be reproduced in mice by infection with murine hepatitis virus strain 3 (MHV-3). Although it is clear that MHV-3-induced hepatitis depends upon macrophage activation and the expression of a specific prothrombinase, fgl-2, the signaling pathways involved in vitally stimulated cell activation are unclear. Since we had previously found that MHV-3 induces the tyrosine phosphorylation of cellular proteins, we investigated the roles of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) proteins. In a series of Western blots, immunoprecipitation and in vitro kinase assay studies, we found that both the extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) and p38 MAPK proteins are tyrosine-phosphorylated and activated following exposure of murine peritoneal exudative macrophages (PEM) to MHV-3. Although p38 phosphorylation and activity are induced soon after MHV-3 exposure, peaking by 1-5 min, ERK phosphorylation and activity increase more gradually, peaking at 20-30 min and gradually fading thereafter. Interestingly, whereas selective p38 inhibition with SB203580 (1-20 μM) abolished the vitally stimulated induction of fgl-2 mRNA, protein, and functional activity, selective ERK inhibition with PD98059 (1-50 μM) limited fgl-2 functional activity but had little to no effect on fgl-2 mRNA or protein levels. Moreover, whereas inhibition of ERK had no effect on p38 activity, p38 inhibition consistently increased MHV-3-induced ERK activity. To ensure that these pathways were relevant in vivo, MHV-3 was injected intraperitoneally, and peritoneal exudative macrophages were collected. Again, MHV-3 exposure led to increased p38 and ERK tyrosine phosphorylation. These data argue that MHV-3 induces tightly interconnected ERK and p38 MAPK cascades in the macrophage both in vitro and in vivo. Although the ERK and p38 MAPK proteins have discordant effects at the level of fgl-2 expression, both converge at the level of its activity, suggesting that targeted MAPK inhibition may ultimately be useful in the modulation of viral hepatitis.
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