Interleukin-22 (IL-22), one of the cytokines secreted by T-helper 17 (Th17) cells, binds to a class II cytokine receptor containing an IL-22 receptor 1 (IL-22R1) and IL-10R2 and influences a variety of immune reactions. IL-22 has also been shown to modulate cell cycle and proliferation mediators such as extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), but little is known about the underlying molecular mechanisms of IL-22 in tumorigenesis. In this paper, we propose that IL-22 has a crucial role to play in controlling epithelial cell proliferation and tumorigenesis in the breast. IL-22 increased MAP3K8 phosphorylation through IL-22R1, followed by the induction of MEK-ERK, JNK-c-Jun, and STAT3 signaling pathways. Furthermore, IL-22-IL-22R1 signaling pathway activated activator protein-1 and HER2 promoter activity. In addition, Pin1 was identified as a key positive regulator for the phosphorylation-dependent MEK, c-Jun and STAT3 activity induced by IL-22. Pin1(-/-) mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF) exhibited significantly a decrease in IL-22-induced MEK1/2, c-Jun, and STAT3 phosphorylation compared with Pin1(+/+) MEF. In addition, a knockdown of Pin1 prevented phosphorylation induced by IL-22. The in vivo chorioallantoic membrane assay also showed that IL-22 increased tumor formation of JB6 Cl41 cells. Moreover, the knockdown of MAP3K8 and Pin1 attenuated tumorigenicity of MCF7 cells. Consistent with these observations, IL-22 levels positively correlate with MAP3K8 and Pin1 expression in human breast cancer. Overall, our findings point to a critical role for the IL-22-induced MAP3K8 signaling pathway in promoting cancer-associated inflammation in the tumor microenvironment.
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