Background: Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the world. To combat against this pathogen, immune cells release cytokines including tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), which is pivotal in the development of protective granulomas. Our previous results showed that Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), a mycobacterium used as a model to investigate the immune response against MTB, stimulates the induction of TNF-alpha via mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) in human blood monocytes. Since MAPK phosphatase-1 (MKP-1) is known to regulate MAPK activities, we examined whether MKP-1 plays a role in BCG-induced MAPK activation and cytokine expression.
Results: Primary human blood monocytes were treated with BCG and assayed for MKP-1 expression. Our results demonstrated that following exposure to BCG, there was an increase in the expression of MKP-1. Additionally, the induction of MKP-1 was regulated by p38 MAPK and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 and 2 (ERK1/2). Surprisingly, when MKP-1 expression was blocked by its specific siRNA, there was a significant decrease in the levels of phospho-MAPK (p38 MAPK and ERK1/2) and TNF-alpha inducible by BCG.
Conclusions: Since TNF-alpha is pivotal in granuloma formation, the results indicated an unexpected positive function of MKP-1 against mycobacterial infection as opposed to its usual phosphatase activity.