Aurothiomalate inhibits cyclooxygenase 2, matrix metalloproteinase 3, and interleukin-6 expression in chondrocytes by increasing MAPK phosphatase 1 expression and decreasing p38 phosphorylation: MAPK phosphatase 1 as a novel target for antirheumatic drugs

Arthritis Rheum. 2010 Jun;62(6):1650-9. doi: 10.1002/art.27409.


Objective: Aurothiomalate is a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug that suppresses inflammation and retards cartilage degradation and bone erosion in arthritis. The molecular mechanisms of action of aurothiomalate are not known in detail. MAPK pathways are major signaling pathways in inflammation that regulate the production of many inflammatory and destructive factors in arthritis. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of aurothiomalate on the activity of p38 MAPK and on the expression of MAPK phosphatase 1 (MKP-1), cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), matrix metalloproteinase 3 (MMP-3), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) in immortalized murine H4 chondrocytes and in intact human and murine cartilage.

Methods: Protein expression was examined by Western blotting or by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and messenger RNA (mRNA) expression was examined by real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis. The mediator role of MKP-1 was investigated by using small interfering RNA (siRNA) methods to down-regulated MKP-1 expression in chondrocytes in culture and by comparing the responses in intact cartilage from MKP-1-deficient and wild-type mice. The effects of aurothiomalate were also confirmed in human rheumatoid cartilage by using tissue samples obtained at the time of total knee replacement surgery.

Results: Aurothiomalate inhibited IL-1beta-induced COX-2 expression and prostaglandin E(2) production by destabilizing COX-2 mRNA, as did the p38 MAPK inhibitor SB203580. Interestingly, aurothiomalate also increased the expression of MKP-1 and reduced the IL-1beta-induced phosphorylation of p38 MAPK. Knockdown of MKP-1 by siRNA significantly impaired the ability of aurothiomalate to inhibit the phosphorylation of p38 MAPK and the expression of COX-2, MMP-3, and IL-6. Likewise, aurothiomalate reduced COX-2, MMP-3, and IL-6 expression in articular cartilage from patients with rheumatoid arthritis, as well as in articular cartilage from wild-type mice but not from MKP-1(-/-) mice.

Conclusion: Our findings indicate a novel mechanism for the antiinflammatory and antierosive actions of aurothiomalate, through increased expression of MKP-1, which leads to reduced activation of p38 MAPK and suppressed expression of COX-2, MMP-3, and IL-6. The results suggest that manipulation of MKP-1 levels is a promising new mechanism to be directed in the search and development of novel antiinflammatory and antierosive compounds that have the good efficacy of gold compounds but not their toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cartilage, Articular / drug effects
  • Cartilage, Articular / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chondrocytes / drug effects
  • Chondrocytes / metabolism*
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / genetics
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism*
  • Dual Specificity Phosphatase 1 / genetics
  • Dual Specificity Phosphatase 1 / metabolism*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gold Sodium Thiomalate / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3 / genetics
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3 / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Phosphorylation / genetics
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Interleukin-6
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Gold Sodium Thiomalate
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Dual Specificity Phosphatase 1
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3