Activation of the JNK-AP-1 signal transduction pathway is associated with pathogenesis and progression of human osteosarcomas

Bone. 2003 Apr;32(4):364-71. doi: 10.1016/s8756-3282(03)00026-7.


Osteosarcomas represent the most common primary malignant bone tumors; however, comprehension of the molecular mechanisms underlying their pathogenesis is far from thorough. Studies in cultured cells have demonstrated that the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signal transduction pathway participates in the proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis of osteoblasts. Phosphorylated JNKs activate the oncoprotein c-Jun, which is known to form the activator protein-1 (AP-1) transcription factor as a homo- or heterodimer. c-Jun's principal dimerization partner is c-Fos, which participates in the differentiation and function of osteoblasts and in the pathogenesis of osteosarcomas. A similar role for the JNK cascade in the malignant transformation of human osteoblasts and in the generation of osteosarcomas has not been documented. Our study addressed the possibility that a functional upregulation of the JNK pathway is implicated in the pathogenesis of osteosarcomas. To this end, we employed immunohistochemistry to examine normal bone and osteosarcoma cells in paraffin-embedded sections from 56 patients with high-grade tumors and 15 patients with low-grade tumors. We assessed the protein levels of the two major JNK isoforms (JNK1 and JNK2); their phosphorylated-hence activated-species, p-JNK; their substrate, c- Jun; its phosphorylated (activated) form, pc-Jun; and c-Jun's heterodimeric partner, c-Fos. We also examined the immunohistochemical profile of the alpha chain of the nascent polypeptide-associated complex (alpha-NAC), an osteoblast-specific AP-1 coactivator that potentiates the transcriptional activity of the c-Jun/c-Jun homodimer. Positive immunostaining for JNK1, JNK2, p-JNK, c-Jun, pc-Jun, c-Fos, and alpha-NAC was observed in 86, 93, 94, 99, 97, 99, and 97.5% of the samples, respectively, whereas normal bone was devoid of these immunoreactivities. The cellular levels of all proteins were significantly correlated to each other (P < 0.001 for each correlation). Moreover, significantly higher expression levels of all proteins were detected in high-grade tumors compared to levels in low-grade ones. The observed expression profile of alpha-NAC implies that the active AP-1 in human osteosarcomas most likely comprises c-Jun/c-Jun homodimers. When cellular levels of the JNK pathway components and c-Fos were evaluated as possible biological markers of tumor grade, high expression of c-Jun and abundant pc-Jun predicted a high-grade tumor. Our findings provide novel evidence that the JNK signaling pathway is functionally operative in the malignant transformation of osteoblasts and the subsequent development and progression of human osteosarcomas. Evaluation of c-Jun expression and JNK-dependent activation may facilitate an improved prediction of the tumor's clinical behavior and potentially be exploited in designing patient-tailored treatment regimens.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Bone and Bones / enzymology*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Disease Progression
  • Enzyme Activation / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases*
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 4
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism*
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Osteosarcoma / enzymology*
  • Osteosarcoma / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism
  • Transcription Factor AP-1 / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factor AP-1
  • nascent-polypeptide-associated complex
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 4
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases