OBJECTIVETo investigate the expression variation and significance of ERK1/2 MAPK signaling transduction pathway in the pathogenesis of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) in Kazakh patients.METHODSThe expression level of p-ERK1/2 after serum starvation and treatment with U0126 inhibitor was detected in esophageal cancer cell line EC9706 by Western blot assay. The mRNA level of total ERK1/2 (t-ERK1/2) and expression level of t-ERK1/2 and p-ERK1/2 proteins of 25 pairs of ESCC and adjacent normal esophageal mucosal tissues of Kazakh patients were examined and identified by real-time quantitative PCR (qRT-PCR) and Western blotting, respectively. The expression of p-ERK1/2 protein was verified by immunohistochemistry in 126 paraffin-embeded specimens, including 19 normal esophageal mucosa, 55 esophageal carcinomas in situ and 52 invasive carcinomas.RESULTSERK1/2 MAPK signaling transduction pathway was in an active status in the EC9706 cells. The expression level of p-ERK1/2 in Ec9706 cells reached a peak at 10 min after transient serum stimulation, and p-ERK1/2 expression was totally restrained after the treatment with 50 µmol/L U0126. In the 25 pairs of ESCC and adjacent normal mucosa, the t-ERK1 mRNA level was 1.92 ± 3.49 in the ESCC tissues and 3.67 ± 7.47 in the adjacent normal mucosa. The t-ERK1 mRNA level in ESCC tissues was significantly lower than that in adjacent normal mucosa (P < 0.05), whereas there was no significant difference of t-ERK2 mRNA level between them(P > 0.05). The expression levels of p-ERK1 and p-ERK2 proteins were 0.87 ± 0.14 and 0.79 ± 0.10 in the ESCC tissues, and 1.10 ± 0.13 and 1.32 ± 0.12 in the adjacent normal mucosae. p-ERK1/2 protein in the ESCC tissues was significantly lower than that in the adjacent normal tissue (P < 0.01). However, there was no significant difference between their t-ERK1/2 protein levels (P > 0.05). In the 126 cases of paraffin-embeded specimens, positive expressions of both p-ERK1 and p-ERK2 in esophageal cancer tissues were 7.7% (4/52), significantly lower than those in adjacent normal mucosa (31.6%, 6/19) and carcinoma in situ (85.5%, 47/55, P < 0.05).CONCLUSIONSERK1/2 MAPK signaling pathway is in an active status in esophageal cancer and adjacent normal mucosa. Our results imply that the activation of p-ERK1/2 MAPK signaling transduction pathway plays a role in the early pathogenesis of ESCC in Kazakh patients.