Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease characterized by the rheumatoid factor and anti-citrullinated peptide antibody (ACPA) against common autoantigens that are widely expressed within and outside the joints. Many factors participate in the pathogenesis of RA, such as cytokine imbalance, Wnt pathway activation, matrix production, and osteoprotegerin on osteoclasts. Fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) activation has an important role in RA pathogenesis. The methyl-CpG-binding protein (MeCP2) which promoted repressed chromatin structure was selectively detected in synovium of diseased articular in rats. Overexpression of this protein results in an up-regulation of global methylation levels and transcriptional suppression of specific genes. There were increased MeCP2 and decreased secreted frizzled-related protein 4 (SFRP4) in synovium as well as the FLS isolated from the synovium of RA rats. Knockdown of MeCP2 using siRNA technique enhanced SFRP4 expression in both mRNA and protein levels in FLS. These results indicated that epigenetic modification was involved in differential expression of SFRP4. To further explore the underlying molecular mechanisms, we hypothesized that the SFRP4 down-regulation in synovium was caused by DNA methylation. Treatment of FLS with DNA methylation inhibitor 5-Aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-azadC) blocked the cell proliferation and increased the SFRP4 expression. Increased SFRP4 down-regulated the key gene β-catenin, the downstream effectors gene ccnd1 and fibronectin expression in canonical Wnt pathway at the same time. MeCP2 and DNA methylation may provide molecular mechanisms for canonical Wnt pathway activation in RA. Combination of 5-azadC and MeCP2 may be a promising treatment strategy for individuals with RA in which SFRP4 is inactivated.
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