Extracellular signal-regulated kinase 3 (ERK3) is an atypical mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) which is dysregulated in several cancers including lung cancer, breast cancer and melanoma. It has a single Ser-Glu-Gly (SEG) phospho-acceptor motif in its activation loop, instead of the Thr-Xaa-Tyr (TXY) motif conserved in the classical MAPKs. Moreover, compared to the conventional MAPKs, much less is known about the targets of ERK3 signaling. Hence, to elucidate the ERK3-regulated genes and pathways, we performed gene microarray analyses of both A549 lung cancer cells and A375 melanoma cells after treatment with either a siRNA specifically targeting ERK3 or a non-targeting control siRNA. Interestingly, IL-6 target genes were found to be highly upregulated upon ERK3 knockdown. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a pleiotropic cytokine which signals via the JAK/STAT3 pathway. Phosphorylation of STAT3 at Tyrosine 705 (Y705) by JAK activates STAT3 in response to IL-6 stimulation. IL-6 signaling is negatively regulated by a feedback inhibitor SOCS3 (Suppressor of cytokine signaling 3), which binds to and inhibits JAK kinase activity. Interestingly, we noted that ERK3 interacts with SOCS3 from a published Yeast-two-hybrid screening. We validated the interaction between ERK3 and SOCS3 by co-immunoprecipitation assay. In addition, we found that ERK3 downregulates the phosphorylation of STAT3 at Y705. In line with its negative regulation of oncogenic STAT3 activity, ERK3 inhibits melanoma cell growth, migration/invasion and colony formation in soft agar. Taken together, we have revealed a novel role for ERK3 in suppressing IL-6/STAT3 signaling via SOCS3 in cancer cells.

Citation Format: Astha Shakya, Minyi Chen, Michael Markey, Weiwen Long. ERK3 negatively regulates IL-6/STAT3 signaling via SOCS3 in cancer cells [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2019; 2019 Mar 29-Apr 3; Atlanta, GA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2019;79(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 4289.