What Is a P38 Pathway?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2019
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The P38 pathway is a cell signaling cascade that plays a role in gene expression, cell growth, and immunity. Signaling allows cells to regulate a variety of functions and processes in response to environmental and internal cues, coordinating the function of the body. This particular pathway is involved in responses to environmental stresses and can activate in response to the presence of cytokines and other proteins in the body. It is a target for research because it can play a role in the response to disease.

This process involves enzymes known as mitogen-activated protein kinases, which attach to proteins to change their structure and send signals to other proteins inside the cell. In response to specific environmental pressures, the P38 pathway can create a ripple effect as a series of signals move through a cell and produce one of four known kinases. P38 alpha is one of the most heavily studied.


It is possible that the P38 pathway may play a role in the development of autoimmune disease as well as asthma and allergies. The pathway is involved in the maturation of T-cells and other components of the immune system. Cell death can be regulated by processes along the P38 pathway, as can cell growth, as it may be active during key phases of the division and replication process of cells within the human body. Research to follow the development of specific kinases provides critical information about how they work and where they can be found in the body.

Studies on the P38 pathway have identified it as a potential drug target. Since it is involved in inflammatory responses, it is possible medications could block one of the steps in the cascade to prevent inflammation or limit its severity. This has particularly important implications for patients with autoimmune diseases who experience chronic inflammation because their bodies are attacking themselves. Blocking inflammation can keep patients more comfortable and prevent complications caused by chronic inflammation, like scarring and nerve damage.

Researchers with an interest in this particular cell signaling pathway typically work for academic institutions, government agencies, and private companies. They look at various stages of the P38 pathway as well as possibilities for interrupting or redirecting it through the use of carefully targeted medications. Drug therapies targeting this pathway may have potentially serious side effects for patients, another subject of concern in ongoing research measures to identify pharmaceutical compounds to fight inflammation and immune conditions.


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