Background: Cells have the ability to respond and adapt to environmental changes through activation of stress-activated protein kinases (SAPKs). Although p38 SAPK signalling is known to participate in the regulation of gene expression little is known on the molecular mechanisms used by this SAPK to regulate stress-responsive genes and the overall set of genes regulated by p38 in response to different stimuli.
Results: Here, we report a whole genome expression analyses on mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) treated with three different p38 SAPK activating-stimuli, namely osmostress, the cytokine TNFalpha and the protein synthesis inhibitor anisomycin. We have found that the activation kinetics of p38alpha SAPK in response to these insults is different and also leads to a complex gene pattern response specific for a given stress with a restricted set of overlapping genes. In addition, we have analysed the contribution of p38alpha the major p38 family member present in MEFs, to the overall stress-induced transcriptional response by using both a chemical inhibitor (SB203580) and p38alpha deficient (p38alpha-/-) MEFs. We show here that p38 SAPK dependency ranged between 60% and 88% depending on the treatments and that there is a very good overlap between the inhibitor treatment and the ko cells. Furthermore, we have found that the dependency of SAPK varies depending on the time the cells are subjected to osmostress.
Conclusions: Our genome-wide transcriptional analyses shows a selective response to specific stimuli and a restricted common response of up to 20% of the stress up-regulated early genes that involves an important set of transcription factors, which might be critical for either cell adaptation or preparation for continuous extra-cellular changes. Interestingly, up to 85% of the up-regulated genes are under the transcriptional control of p38 SAPK. Thus, activation of p38 SAPK is critical to elicit the early gene expression program required for cell adaptation to stress.