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Constitutive activation of NF-kappa B is an emerging hallmark of various types of tumors including breast, colon, pancreatic, ovarian, and melanoma. In melanoma cells, the basal expression of the CXC chemokine, CXCL1, is constitutively up-regulated. This up-regulation can be attributed in part to constitutive activation of NF-kappa B. Previous studies have shown an elevated basal I kappa B kinase (IKK) activity in Hs294T melanoma cells, which leads to an increased rate of I kappa B phosphorylation and degradation. This increase in I kappa B-alpha phosphorylation and degradation leads to an approximately 19-fold higher nuclear localization of NF-kappa B. However, the upstream IKK kinase activity is up-regulated by only about 2-fold and cannot account for the observed increase in NF-kappa B activity. We now demonstrate that NF-kappa B-inducing kinase (NIK) is highly expressed in melanoma cells, and IKK-associated NIK activity is enhanced in these cells compared with the normal cells. Kinase-dead NIK blocked constitutive NF-kappa B or CXCL1 promoter activity in Hs294T melanoma cells, but not in control normal human epidermal melanocytes. Transient overexpression of wild type NIK results in increased phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2), which is inhibited in a concentration-dependent manner by PD98059, an inhibitor of p42/44 MAPK. Moreover, the NF-kappa B promoter activity decreased with overexpression of dominant negative ERK expression constructs, and EMSA analyses further support the hypothesis that ERK acts upstream of NF-kappa B and regulates the NF-kappa B DNA binding activity. Taken together, our data implicate involvement of I kappa B kinase and MAPK signaling cascades in NIK-induced constitutive activation of NF-kappa B.