Sensitivity analysis predicts that the ERK-pMEK interaction regulates ERK nuclear translocation.
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Following phosphorylation, nuclear translocation of the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), ERK1 and ERK2, is critical for both gene expression and DNA replication induced by growth factors. ERK nuclear translocation has therefore been studied extensively, but many details remain unresolved, including whether or not ERK dimerisation is required for translocation. Here, we simulate ERK nuclear translocation with a compartmental computational model that includes systematic sensitivity analysis. The governing ordinary differential equations are solved with the backward differentiation formula and decoupled direct methods. To better understand the regulation of ERK nuclear translocation, we use this model in conjunction with a previously published model of the ERK pathway that does not include an ERK dimer species and with experimental measurements of nuclear translocation of wild-type ERK and a mutant form, ERK1-4, which is unable to dimerise. Sensitivity analysis reveals that the delayed nuclear uptake of ERK1-4 compared to that of wild-type ERK1 can be explained by the altered interaction of ERK1-4 with phosphorylated MEK (MAPK/ERK kinase), and so may be independent of dimerisation. Our study also identifies biological experiments that can verify this explanation.