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Destruction of tumor cells is a key function of natural killer (NK) cells. Previous studies have shown that tributyltin (TBT) can significantly reduce the lytic function of the human NK cells with accompanying increases in the phosphorylation (activation) states of the mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs), p44/42. The current studies examine the role of p44/42 activation in the TBT-induced reduction of NK-lytic function, by using MAPK kinase (MEK) inhibitors, PD98059 and U0126. A 1 h treatment with PD98059 or U0126 or both decreased the ability of NK cells to lyse K562 tumor cells. PD98059, U0126 or a combination of both inhibitors were able to completely block TBT-induced activation of p44/42. However, when p44/42 activation was blocked by the presence of PD98059, U0126 or the combination, subsequent exposure to TBT was still able to decrease the lytic function of NK cells. These results indicate that TBT-induced activation of p44/42 occurs via the activation of its upstream activator, MEK, and not by a TBT-induced inhibition of p44/42 phosphatase activity. Additionally, as lytic function was never completely blocked by MEK inhibitors, the results indicate that activation of p44/42 pathway is not solely responsible for the activation of lytic function of freshly isolated human NK cells. Finally, the results showed that TBT-induced activation of p44/42 is not solely responsible for the loss of lytic function.

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