Background: Nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B) is an important transcription factor involved in the regulation of immune responses as well as in cell proliferation and survival. An abnormal and constitutive activation of NF-kappa B is observed in many pathological states as diverse as inflammation, neurological diseases, and cancer.
Methods and results: Termination of NF-kappa B transcription is mediated through the NF-kappa B-dependent synthesis of the I kappa B-alpha inhibitory subunit. To quantify NF-kappa B activation we measured by real-time PCR the expression of I kappa B-alpha mRNA. The PCR data perfectly matched the results obtained by Northern blot or gene reporter analysis when Jurkat leukemic T cells or HeLa carcinoma cells were stimulated with various activators of NF-kappa B, such as the cytokine tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha or the phorbol ester PMA. Constitutive NF-kappa B activation in Hodgkin's lymphoma cell line could also be evaluated by this approach. Kinetic experiments in HeLa cells show that TNF stimulation first induced NF-kappa B DNA binding within 30 minutes, followed by I kappa B-alpha gene transcription 30 minutes later. Removal of TNF after stimulation resulted in a faster decrease in both NF-kappa B DNA binding activity and I kappa B-alpha mRNA levels. No accumulation or stabilization of I kappa B-alpha mRNA was detected that could bias interpretation of the results. The sensitivity of the method allowed the detection of NF-kappa B activation in stimulated normal peripheral blood lymphocytes.
Conclusion: The real-time PCR measure of I kappa B-alpha mRNA levels is a rapid, sensitive, and powerful method to quantify the transcriptional power of NF-kappa B. It can be easily used for clinical evaluation of NF-kappa B status.