Increased phosphorylation of ezrin is associated with the migration and invasion of fibroblast-like synoviocytes from patients with rheumatoid arthritis

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Objective. Increasing evidence indicates that the cytoskeletal protein ezrin may play a critical role in cell motility. This study aims to investigate the role of ezrin in regulating the migration and invasion of fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLSs) from patients with RA.

Methods. Synovial tissues were obtained from 12 patients with RA and 6 with OA, and then FLSs were separated from synovial tissues. The expression of ezrin and phosphorylated ezrin (p-ezrin) was examined by Western blotting or IF staining. A specific inhibitor of ezrin phosphorylation and small interference RNA-mediated ezrin knockdown were used to inhibit the phosphorylation of ezrin. Migration and invasion of FLSs in vitro were measured by the Boyden chamber assay.

Results. Increased expression of p-ezrin protein was found in synovial tissue and FLSs in patients with RA compared with patients with OA. Stimulation with TNF-α and IL-1β increased ezrin phosphorylation in RA FLSs. Inhibition of p-ezrin protein by a specific inhibitor of phosphorylation of ezrin and small interfering RNA–mediated knockdown reduced in vitro migration and invasion, as well as actin stress fibre formation in RA FLS. Furthermore, rho kinase and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signal pathways were involved in the phosphorylation of ezrin and invasion of RA FLSs.

Conclusion. Increased expression of p-ezrin may contribute to aberrant aggressive behaviours of RA FLSs, which are mediated by rho kinase and the p38 MAPK pathway. This suggests a novel strategy targeting phosphorylation of ezrin to prevent synovial invasiveness and joint destruction in RA.

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