Research Papers:

MAPK15 upregulation promotes cell proliferation and prevents DNA damage in male germ cell tumors

Matteo Rossi, David Colecchia, Gennaro Ilardi, Mario Acunzo, Giovanni Nigita, Federica Sasdelli, Angela Celetti, Angela Strambi, Stefania Staibano, Carlo Maria Croce and Mario Chiariello _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:20981-20998. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.8044

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Matteo Rossi1,*, David Colecchia1,2,*, Gennaro Ilardi3, Mario Acunzo4, Giovanni Nigita4, Federica Sasdelli1,2, Angela Celetti5, Angela Strambi1, Stefania Staibano3, Carlo Maria Croce4, Mario Chiariello1,2

1Istituto Toscano Tumori (ITT), Core Research Laboratory (CRL), AOU Senese, Siena, Italy

2Istituto di Fisiologia Clinica (IFC), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), Siena, Italy

3Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche Avanzate, Università di Napoli “Federico II”, Napoli, Italy

4Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics, Comprehensive Cancer Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus OH, USA

5Istituto di Endocrinologia e Oncologia Sperimentale “G. Salvatore”, CNR, Napoli, Italy

*The first two authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Mario Chiariello, e-mail: [email protected]

Keywords: MAP kinases, autophagy, p53, DNA damage, embryonal carcinomas

Received: July 17, 2015     Accepted: January 29, 2016     Published: March 14, 2016


Germ cell tumors (GCT) are the most common malignancies in males between 15 and 35 years of age. Despite the high cure rate, achieved through chemotherapy and/or surgery, the molecular basis of GCT etiology is still largely obscure. Here, we show a positive correlation between MAPK15 (ERK8; ERK7) expression and specific GCT subtypes, with the highest levels found in the aggressive embryonal carcinomas (EC). Indeed, in corresponding cellular models for EC, MAPK15 enhanced tumorigenicity in vivo and promoted cell proliferation in vitro, supporting a role for this kinase in human GCT. At molecular level, we demonstrated that endogenous MAPK15 is necessary to sustain cell cycle progression of EC cells, by limiting p53 activation and preventing the triggering of p53-dependent mechanisms resulting in cell cycle arrest.

To understand MAPK15-dependent mechanisms impinging on p53 activation, we demonstrate that this kinase efficiently protects cells from DNA damage. Moreover, we show that the ability of MAPK15 to control the autophagic process is necessary for basal management of DNA damage and for tumor formation controlled by the kinase.

In conclusion, our findings suggest that MAPK15 overexpression may contribute to the malignant transformation of germ cells by controlling a “stress support” autophagic pathway, able to prevent DNA damage and the consequent activation of the p53 tumor suppressor. Moreover, in light of these results, MAPK15-specific inhibitors might represent new tools to enhance the therapeutic index of cytotoxic therapy in GCT treatment, and to increase the sensitivity to DNA-damaging drugs in other chemotherapy-resistant human tumors.

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