Expression and activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases-3 and -6 in rheumatoid arthritis

Martine Chabaud-Riou, Gary S Firestein
American Journal of Pathology 2004, 164 (1): 177-84
The p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase signal transduction pathway regulates the production of interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. p38 kinase inhibitors are effective in animal models of arthritis and are currently being developed in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, little is known about the upstream kinases that control the activation of p38 in RA synovium. In vitro studies previously identified the MAP kinase kinases (MAPKKs) MKK3 and MKK6 as the primary regulators of p38 phosphorylation and activation. To investigate a potential role for MKK3 and MKK6 in RA, we evaluated their expression and regulation in RA synovium and cultured fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS). Immunohistochemistry demonstrated that MKK3 and MKK6 are expressed in RA and osteoarthritis (OA) synovium. Digital image analysis showed no significant differences between OA and RA with regard to expression or distribution. However, phosphorylated MKK3/6 expression was significantly higher in RA synovium and was localized to the sublining mononuclear cells and the intimal lining. Actin-normalized Western blot analysis of synovial tissue lysates confirmed the increased expression of phosphorylated MKK3/6 in RA. Western blot analysis demonstrated constitutive expression of MKK3 and MKK6 in RA and OA FLS. Phospho-MKK3 levels were low in medium-treated FLS, but were rapidly increased by interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, although phospho-MKK6 levels only modestly increased. p38 co-immunoprecipitated with MKK3 and MKK6 from cytokine-stimulated FLS and the complex phosphorylated activating transcription factor-2 in an in vitro kinase assay. These data are the first documentation of MKK3 and MKK6 activation in human inflammatory disease. By forming a complex with p38 in synovial tissue and FLS, these kinases can potentially be targeted to regulate the production of proinflammatory cytokine production in inflamed synovium.

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