The extracellular signal-regulated kinase: multiple substrates regulate diverse cellular functions

Growth Factors. 2006 Mar;24(1):21-44. doi: 10.1080/02699050500284218.


The extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) cascade is a central pathway that transmits signals from many extracellular agents to regulate cellular processes such as proliferation, differentiation and cell cycle progression. The signaling via the ERK cascade is mediated by sequential phosphorylation and activation of protein kinases in the different tiers of the cascade. Although the main core phosphorylation chain of the cascade includes Raf kinases, MEK1/2, ERK1/2 (ERKs) and RSKs, other alternatively spliced forms and distinct components exist in the different tiers, and participate in ERK signaling under specific conditions. These components enhance the complexity of the ERK cascade and thereby, enable the wide variety of functions that are regulated by it. Another factor that is important for the dissemination of ERKs' signals is the multiplicity of the cascade's substrates, which include transcription factors, protein kinases and phosphatases, cytoskeletal elements, regulators of apoptosis, and a variety of other signaling-related molecules. About 160 substrates have already been discovered for ERKs, and the list of these substrates, as well as the function and mechanism of activation of representative substrates, are described in the current review. Many of these substrates are localized in the nucleus, and seem to participate in the regulation of transcription upon stimulation. However, other substrates are found in the cytosol as well as in other cellular organelles, and those are responsible for processes such as translation, mitosis and apoptosis. Understanding of these processes may provide a full picture of the distinct, and even opposing cellular processes that are regulated by the ERK cascade.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Binding
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Transcription Factors
  • raf Kinases / metabolism


  • Transcription Factors
  • raf Kinases
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases