Heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HBEGF) is expressed by trophoblast cells throughout gestation. First-trimester cytotrophoblast cells are protected from hypoxia-induced apoptosis because of the accumulation of HBEGF through a posttranscriptional autocrine mechanism. Exogenous application of HBEGF is cytoprotective in a hypoxia/reoxygenation (H/R) injury model and initiates trophoblast extravillous differentiation to an invasive phenotype. The downstream signaling pathways induced by HBEGF that mediate these various cellular activities were identified using two human first-trimester cytotrophoblast cell lines, HTR-8/SVneo and SW.71, with similar results. Recombinant HBEGF (1 nM) induced transient phosphorylation of MAPK3/1 (ERK), MAPK14 (p38), and AKT within 15 min and JNK after 1–2 h. To determine which downstream pathways regulate the various functions of HBEGF, cells were treated with specific inhibitors of the ERK upstream regulator MEK (U0126), the AKT upstream regulator phosphoinositide-3 (PI3)-kinase (LY294002), MAPK14 (SB203580), and JNK (SP600125), as well as with inactive structural analogues. Only SB203580 specifically prevented HBEGF-mediated rescue during H/R, while each inhibitor attenuated HBEGF-stimulated cell migration. Accumulation of HBEGF at reduced oxygen was blocked only by a combination of U0126, SB203580, and SP600125. We conclude that HBEGF advances trophoblast extravillous differentiation through coordinate activation of PI3 kinase, ERK, MAPK14, and JNK, while only MAPK14 is required for its antiapoptotic activity. Additionally, hypoxia induces an autocrine increase in HBEGF protein levels through MAPK14, JNK or ERK. These experiments reveal a complexity of the intracellular signaling circuitry that regulates trophoblast functions critical for implantation and placentation.
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Vol. 82 • No. 5