Upregulated ERK1/2 activity is correlated with androgen receptor (AR) downregulation in certain prostate cancer (PCa) that exhibits androgen deprivation-induced neuroendocrine differentiation, but its functional relevance requires elucidation. We found that sustained ERK1/2 activation using active Raf or MEK1/2 mutants is sufficient to induce AR downregulation at mRNA and protein levels in LNCaP. Downregulation of AR protein, but not mRNA, was blocked by proteasome inhibitors, MG132 and bortezomib, indicating that the pathway regulation is mediated at multiple points. Ectopic expression of a constitutively active AR inhibited Raf/MEK/ERK-mediated regulation of the differentiation markers, neuron-specific enolase and neutral endopeptidase, and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors, p16(INK4A) and p21(CIP1), but not Rb phosphorylation and E2F1 expression, indicating that AR has a specific role in the pathway-mediated differentiation and growth inhibitory signaling. However, despite the sufficient role of Raf/MEK/ERK, its inhibition using U0126 or ERK1/2 knockdown could not block androgen deprivation-induced AR downregulation in an LNCaP neuroendocrine differentiation model, suggesting that additional signaling pathways are involved in the regulation. We additionally report that sustained Raf/MEK/ERK activity can downregulate full length as well as hormone binding domain-deficient AR isoforms in androgen-refractory C4-2 and CWR22Rv1, but not in LAPC4 and MDA-PCa-2b. Our study demonstrates a novel role of the Raf/MEK/ERK pathway in regulating AR expression in certain PCa types and provides an insight into PCa responses to its aberrant activation.
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