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Open Access Research article

Activation of Erk and JNK MAPK pathways by acute swim stress in rat brain regions

Chang-peng Shen1, Yelena Tsimberg1, Christopher Salvadore2 and Emanuel Meller1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, 550 First Ave, MHL HN511, New York, NY 10016, USA

2 Cell Signaling Technology, 166B Cummings Center, Beverly, MA 09115, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2004, 5:36  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-5-36

Published: 20 September 2004



The mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) have been shown to participate in a wide array of cellular functions. A role for some MAPKs (e.g., extracellular signal-regulated kinase, Erk1/2) has been documented in response to certain physiological stimuli, such as ischemia, visceral pain and electroconvulsive shock. We recently demonstrated that restraint stress activates the Erk MAPK pathway, but not c-Jun-N-terminal kinase/stress-activated protein kinase (JNK/SAPK) or p38MAPK, in several rat brain regions. In the present study, we investigated the effects of a different stressor, acute forced swim stress, on the phosphorylation (P) state of these MAPKs in the hippocampus, neocortex, prefrontal cortex, amygdala and striatum. In addition, effects on the phosphorylation state of the upstream activators of the MAPKs, their respective MAPK kinases (MAPKKs; P-MEK1/2, P-MKK4 and P-MKK3/6), were determined. Finally, because the Erk pathway can activate c-AMP response element (CRE) binding (CREB) protein, and swim stress has recently been reported to enhance CREB phosphorylation, changes in P-CREB were also examined.


A single 15 min session of forced swimming increased P-Erk2 levels 2–3-fold in the neocortex, prefrontal cortex and striatum, but not in the hippocampus or amygdala. P-JNK levels (P-JNK1 and/or P-JNK2/3) were increased in all brain regions about 2–5-fold, whereas P-p38MAPK levels remained essentially unchanged. Surprisingly, levels of the phosphorylated MAPKKs, P-MEK1/2 and P-MKK4 (activators of the Erk and JNK pathways, respectively) were increased in all five brain regions, and much more dramatically (P-MEK1/2, 4.5 to > 100-fold; P-MKK4, 12 to ~300-fold). Consistent with the lack of forced swim on phosphorylation of p38MAPK, there appeared to be no change in levels of its activator, P-MKK3/6. P-CREB was increased in all but cortical (prefrontal, neocortex) areas.


Swim stress specifically and markedly enhanced the phosphorylation of the MAPKKs P-MEK1/2 and P-MKK4 in all brain regions tested without apparent alteration in the phosphorylation of P-MKK3/6. Curiously, phosphorylation of their cognate substrates (Erk and JNK) was increased to a much more modest extent, and in some brain regions was not altered. Similarly, there was a region-specific discrepancy between Erk and CREB phosphorylation. Possible explanations for these findings and comparison with the effects of restraint stress will be discussed.