Background: Cytokines such as TNF-alpha and IL-1 beta are known for their contribution to inflammatory processes in liver. In contrast, the cytokine IL-17 has not yet been assigned a role in liver diseases. IL-17 can cooperate with TNF-alpha to induce a synergistic response on several target genes in different cell lines, but no data exist for primary hepatocytes. To enhance our knowledge on the impact of IL-17 alone and combined with TNF-alpha in primary murine hepatocytes a comprehensive microarray study was designed. IL-1 beta was included as this cytokine is suggested to act in a similar manner as the combination of TNF-alpha and IL-17, especially with respect to its role in mRNA stabilization.
Results: The present microarray analysis demonstrates that primary murine hepatocytes responded to IL-17 stimulation by upregulation of chemokines and genes, which are functionally responsible to increase and sustain inflammation. Cxcl2, Nfkbiz and Zc3h12a were strongly induced, whereas the majority of the genes were only very moderately up-regulated. Promoter analysis revealed involvement of NF-kappaB in the activation of many genes. Combined stimulation of TNF-alpha/IL-17 resulted in enhanced induction of gene expression, but significantly synergistic effects could be applied only to a few genes, such as Nfkbiz, Cxcl2, Zc3h12 and Steap4. Comparison of the gene expression profile obtained after stimulation of TNF-alpha/IL-17 versus IL-1 beta proposed an "IL-1 beta-like effect" of the latter cytokine combination. Moreover, evidence was provided that modulation of mRNA stability may be a major mechanism by which IL-17 regulates gene expression in primary hepatocytes. This assumption was exemplarily proven for Nfkbiz mRNA for the first time in hepatocytes. Our studies also suggest that RNA stability can partially be correlated to the existence of AU rich elements, but further mechanisms like the RNase activity of the up-regulated Zc3h12a have to be considered.
Conclusions: Our microarray analysis gives new insights in IL-17 induced gene expression in primary hepatocytes highlighting the crosstalk with the NF-kappaB signaling pathway. Gene expression profile suggests IL-17 alone and in concert with TNF-alpha a role in sustaining liver inflammatory processes. IL-17 might exceed this function by RNA stabilization.