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Tributyltin (TBT) activates the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK), p44/42 in human natural killer (NK) cells. TBT also reduces NK cytotoxic function and decreases the expression of several NK-cell proteins. To understand the role that p44/42 activation plays in TBT-induced loss of NK cell function, this study investigated how selective activation of p44/42 by phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) affects NK cells. Previously it was shown that PMA caused losses of lytic function similar to those seen with TBT exposures. This study examined activation of p44/42 in the regulation of NK-cell protein expression and how this regulation may explain the protein expression changes seen with TBT exposures. NK cells exposed to PMA were examined for levels of cell-surface proteins, granzyme mRNA, and perforin mRNA expression. The expression of CD11a, CD16, CD18, and CD56 were reduced, perforin mRNA levels were unchanged, and granzyme mRNA levels were increased. To verify that activation of p44/42 was responsible for the alterations seen in CD11a, CD16, CD18, and CD56 with PMA, NK cells were treated with the p44/42 pathway inhibitor (PD98059) prior to PMA exposures. In the presence of PD98059, PMA caused no decreases in the expression of the cell-surface proteins. Results of these studies indicate that the activation of p44/42 may lead to the loss of NK cell cytotoxic function by decreasing the expression of CD11a, CD16, CD18, and CD56. Further, activation of p44/42 appears to be at least in part responsible for the TBT-induced decreases in expression of CD16, CD18, and CD56.

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