Objective: To investigate whether stress- and mitogen-activated protein kinases (SAPK/MAPK), such as extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and p38 MAPK, are significantly activated in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovial tissue compared with their activation in degenerative joint disease; to assess the localization of SAPK/MAPK activation in rheumatoid synovial tissue; and to search for the factors leading to stress kinase activation in human synovial cells.
Methods: Immunoblotting and immunohistology by antibodies specific for the activated forms of SAPK/MAPK were performed on synovial tissue samples from patients with RA and osteoarthritis (OA). In addition, untreated and cytokine-treated human synovial cells were assessed for SAPK/MAPK activation and downstream signaling by various techniques.
Results: ERK, JNK, and p38 MAPK activation were almost exclusively found in synovial tissue from RA, but not OA, patients. ERK activation was localized around synovial microvessels, JNK activation was localized around and within mononuclear cell infiltrates, and p38 MAPK activation was observed in the synovial lining layer and in synovial endothelial cells. Tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-1 (IL-1), and IL-6 were the major inducers of ERK, JNK, and p38 MAPK activation in cultured human synovial cells.
Conclusion: Signaling through SAPK/MAPK pathways is a typical feature of chronic synovitis in RA, but not in degenerative joint disease. SAPK/MAPK signaling is found at distinct sites in the synovial tissue, is induced by proinflammatory cytokines, and could lead to the design of highly targeted therapies.