The mammalian family of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) includes extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), p38, and c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase (JNK), with each MAPK signaling pathway consisting of at least three components, a MAPK kinase kinase (MAP3K), a MAPK kinase (MAP2K), and a MAPK. The MAPK pathways are activated by diverse extracellular and intracellular stimuli including peptide growth factors, cytokines, hormones, and various cellular stressors such as oxidative stress and endoplasmic reticulum stress. These signaling pathways regulate a variety of cellular activities including proliferation, differentiation, survival, and death. Deviation from the strict control of MAPK signaling pathways has been implicated in the development of many human diseases including Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and various types of cancers. Persistent activation of the JNK or p38 signaling pathways has been suggested to mediate neuronal apoptosis in AD, PD, and ALS, whereas the ERK signaling pathway plays a key role in several steps of tumorigenesis including cancer cell proliferation, migration, and invasion. In this review, we summarize recent findings on the roles of MAPK signaling pathways in human disorders, focusing on cancer and neurodegenerative diseases including AD, PD, and ALS.
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