Purpose: The inflammatory response of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is implicated in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration. The microRNAs miR-146a and miR-146b-5p can regulate the inflammatory process by attenuating cytokine signaling via the nuclear factor-κB pathway. The aim of the present study is to investigate the expression of miR-146a and miR-146b-5p in human RPE cells and their response to proinflammatory cytokines.
Methods: Confluent cultures of RPE cells established from adult human donor eyes were treated with the proinflammatory cytokines interferon (IFN)-γ, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and interleukin (IL)-1β. The expression of microRNAs was analyzed by real-time PCR using total RNA fraction. The retinal pigment epithelial cell line ARPE-19 was employed to analyze the promoter activity of the genes encoding miR-146a and miR-146b-5p. STAT1-binding activity of oligonucleotides was analyzed by electrophoretic mobility shift assay. ARPE-19 cells were transiently transfected with miR-146a and miR-146b-5p mimics for the analysis of IRAK1 expression by western immunoblotting.
Results: Real-time PCR analysis showed that miR-146a and 146b-5p are expressed in RPE cells. The cells responded to proinflammatory cytokines (IFN-γ + TNF-α + IL-1β) by highly increasing the expression of both miR-146a and miR-146b-5p. This was associated with an increase in the expression of transcripts for CCL2, CCL5, CXCL9, CXCL10, and IL-6, and a decrease in that for HMOX1. The miR-146a induction was more dependent on IL-1β, since its omission from the cytokine mix resulted in a greatly reduced response. Similarly, the induction of miR-146b-5p was more dependent on IFN-γ, since its omission from the cytokine mix minimized the effect. In addition, the increase in MIR146B promoter activity by the cytokine mix was effectively blocked by JAK inhibitor 1, a known inhibitor of the JAK/STAT signaling pathway. The expression of IRAK1 protein was decreased when ARPE-19 cells were transiently transfected with either miR-146a mimic or miR-146b-5p mimic.
Conclusions: Our results clearly show that both miR-146a and miR-146b-5p are expressed in human RPE cells in culture and their expression is highly induced by proinflammatory cytokines (IFN-γ + TNF-α + IL-1β). The induction of miR-146a showed a dependency on IL-1β, while that of miR-146b-5p on IFN-γ. Our results show for the first time that miR-146b-5p expression is regulated by IFN-γ, potentially via the JAK/STAT pathway. These two microRNAs could play a role in inflammatory processes underlying age-related macular degeneration or other retinal degenerative diseases through their ability to negatively regulate the nuclear factor-κB pathway by targeting the expression of IRAK1.