Antiviral gene expression in rheumatoid arthritis: Role of IKKε and interferon regulatory factor 3

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The rheumatoid synovium displays characteristics of Toll-like receptor (TLR) activation and antiviral gene expression, including production of RANTES and interferon-β (IFNβ). The mechanism of this activation in rheumatoid synovial tissue is unknown. This study was designed to investigate the role of the IKK-related kinase IKKε and IFN regulatory factor 3 (IRF-3) in the activation of antiviral genes in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).


Kinase assay and immunostaining were performed on synovial tissue. Dominant-negative (DN) IKKε adenoviral infection of human fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) was followed by poly(I-C) stimulation and Western blotting. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction was performed on DN IKKε–infected FLS and IKKε−/− and IKKε+/+ mouse FLS.


Western blotting showed that IKKε phosphorylation was significantly greater in RA synovium compared with osteoarthritis synovium. Kinase assay confirmed that IKKε was activated in RA synovium, and immunostaining showed localization of pIKKε to the intimal lining. Western blot analysis demonstrated that activation of IRF-3 was also increased in RA synovium. Poly(I-C), lipopolysaccharide, and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) activated phosphorylation of IKKε and IRF-3 in FLS. DN IKKε inhibited IRF-3 phosphorylation as well as RANTES and IFNβ protein production in synoviocytes. Antiviral gene expression was also reduced in FLS from IKKε−/− mice compared with IKKε+/+ mice.


Antiviral gene expression in RA, especially due to TLR ligands and TNFα, is dependent on IKKε and IRF-3, and this pathway plays a key role in the production of type I IFNs and chemokines such as RANTES. These findings indicate that the IKKε pathway may have potential as a therapeutic target in RA.

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