[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Endogenous cardiotonic glycosides bind to the inhibitory binding site of the plasma membrane sodium pump (Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase). Plasma levels of endogenous cardiotonic glycosides increase in several disease states, such as essential hypertension and uremia. Low concentrations of ouabain, which do not inhibit Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase, induce cell proliferation. The mechanisms of ouabain-mediated response remain unclear. Recently, we demonstrated that in opossum kidney (OK) proximal tubular cells, low concentrations of ouabain induce cell proliferation through phosphorylation of protein kinase B (Akt) in a calcium-dependent manner. In the present study, we identified ERK as an upstream kinase regulating Akt activation in ouabain-stimulated cells. Furthermore, we provide evidence that low concentrations of ouabain stimulate Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase-mediated (86)Rb uptake in an Akt-, ERK-, and Src kinase-dependent manner. Ouabain-mediated ERK phosphorylation was inhibited by blockade of intracellular calcium release, calcium entry, tyrosine kinases, and phospholipase C. Pharmacological inhibition of phosphoinositide-3 kinase and Akt failed to inhibit ouabain-stimulated ERK phosphorylation. Ouabain-mediated Akt phosphorylation was inhibited by U0126, a MEK/ERK inhibitor, suggesting that ouabain-mediated Akt phosphorylation is dependent on ERK. In an in vitro kinase assay, active recombinant ERK phosphorylated recombinant Akt on Ser(473). Moreover, transient transfection with constitutively active MEK1, an upstream regulator of ERK, increased Akt phosphorylation and activation, whereas overexpression of constitutively active Akt failed to stimulate ERK phosphorylation. Ouabain at low concentrations also promoted cell proliferation in an ERK-dependent manner. These findings suggest that ouabain-stimulated ERK phosphorylation is required for Akt phosphorylation on Ser(473), cell proliferation, and stimulation of Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase-mediated (86)Rb uptake in OK cells.