An intracellular signaling system involving the MAP kinase cascades (three-membered protein kinase cascades). Various upstream activators, which act in response to extracellular stimuli, trigger the cascades by activating the first member of a cascade, MAP KINASE KINASE KINASES; (MAPKKKs). Activated MAPKKKs phosphorylate MITOGEN-ACTIVATED PROTEIN KINASE KINASES which in turn phosphorylate the MITOGEN-ACTIVATED PROTEIN KINASES; (MAPKs). The MAPKs then act on various downstream targets to affect gene expression. In mammals, there are several distinct MAP kinase pathways including the ERK (extracellular signal-regulated kinase) pathway, the SAPK/JNK (stress-activated protein kinase/c-jun kinase) pathway, and the p38 kinase pathway. There is some sharing of components among the pathways depending on which stimulus originates activation of the cascade. MeSH
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