ERK signalling: a master regulator of cell behaviour, life and fate

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2020 Oct;21(10):607-632. doi: 10.1038/s41580-020-0255-7. Epub 2020 Jun 23.


The proteins extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 (ERK1) and ERK2 are the downstream components of a phosphorelay pathway that conveys growth and mitogenic signals largely channelled by the small RAS GTPases. By phosphorylating widely diverse substrates, ERK proteins govern a variety of evolutionarily conserved cellular processes in metazoans, the dysregulation of which contributes to the cause of distinct human diseases. The mechanisms underlying the regulation of ERK1 and ERK2, their mode of action and their impact on the development and homeostasis of various organisms have been the focus of much attention for nearly three decades. In this Review, we discuss the current understanding of this important class of kinases. We begin with a brief overview of the structure, regulation, substrate recognition and subcellular localization of ERK1 and ERK2. We then systematically discuss how ERK signalling regulates six fundamental cellular processes in response to extracellular cues. These processes are cell proliferation, cell survival, cell growth, cell metabolism, cell migration and cell differentiation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases