Neurotransmitters and growth factors can trigger activation of a newly described family of mitogen-activated protein kinases. To help define the role of this kinase family in signal transduction in the nervous system, we have conducted immunohistochemical studies to localize p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase in rat brain sections. Light-microscopic studies revealed staining in neuronal cell bodies and dendrites that is particularly prominent in superficial layers of the neocortex, the hippocampal CA3 region and dentate gyrus, as well as cerebellar Purkinje cells. Discrete staining of oligodendrocytes was also apparent in fiber tracts, indicating expression of p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase in both neuronal and glial cell types. Electron-microscopic studies demonstrated that staining in dendrites is closely associated with microtubules. In the cell bodies, prominent staining was associated with the Golgi apparatus. In contrast, immunolabeling of synaptic terminals was not detected. Previous studies have demonstrated that p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase responds to neuronal stimulation. Immunohistochemical studies presented in this paper demonstrate prominent staining for this kinase in neuronal cell bodies and dendrites. Therefore, this kinase is likely to play a key role in postsynaptic signal transduction. As both p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase and microtubule-associated protein 2, an in vitro substrate of p42 mitogen-activated kinase, are associated with dendritic microtubules, this kinase may mediate effects of growth factors or neurotransmitters on the dendritic cytoskeleton.
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