The ERK (extracellular-regulated kinase)/MAPK (mitogen activated protein kinase) pathway is a key pathway that transduces cellular information on meiosis/mitosis, growth, differentiation and carcinogenesis within a cell. Membrane bound receptor tyrosine kinases (RTK), which are often growth factor receptors, are the starting point for this pathway. Binding of ligand to RTK activates the intrinsic tyrosine kinase activity of RTK. Adaptor molecules like growth factor receptor bound protein 2 (GRB2), son of sevenless (SOS) and Shc form a signaling complex on tyrosine phosphorylated RTK and activate Ras. Activated Ras initiates a kinase cascade, beginning with Raf (a MAPK kinase kinase) which activates and phosphorylates MEK (a MAPK kinase); MEK activates and phosphorylates ERK (a MAPK). ERK in the cytoplasm can phosphorylate a variety of targets which include cytoskeleton proteins, ion channels/receptors and translation regulators.ERK is also translocated across into the nucleus where it induces gene transcription by interacting with transcriptional regulators like ELK-1, STAT-1 and -3, ETS and MYC. ERK activation of p90RSK in the cytoplasm leads to its nuclear translocation where it indirectly induces gene transcription through interaction with transcriptional regulators, CREB, c-Fos and SRF.
RTK activation of Ras and Raf sometimes takes alternate pathways. For example, integrins activate ERK via a FAK mediated pathway. ERK can also be activated by a CAS-CRK-Rap1 mediated activation of B-Raf and a PLCγ-PKC-Ras-Raf activation of ERK.