Dysregulation of iron homeostasis may be a pathogenic factor in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Meanwhile, the formation of complement-containing deposits under the retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cell layer is a pathognomonic feature of AMD. In this study, we investigated the molecular mechanisms by which complement component 3 (C3), a central protein in the complement cascade, is up-regulated by iron in RPE cells. Modulation of TGF-β signaling, involving ERK1/2, SMAD3, and CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein-δ, is responsible for iron-induced C3 expression. The differential effects of spatially distinct SMAD3 phosphorylation sites at the linker region and at the C terminus determined the up-regulation of C3. Pharmacologic inhibition of either ERK1/2 or SMAD3 phosphorylation decreased iron-induced C3 expression levels. Knockdown of SMAD3 blocked the iron-induced up-regulation and nuclear accumulation of CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein-δ, a transcription factor that has been shown previously to bind the basic leucine zipper 1 domain in the C3 promoter. We show herein that mutation of this domain reduced iron-induced C3 promoter activity. In vivo studies support our in vitro finding of iron-induced C3 up-regulation. Mice with a mosaic pattern of RPE-specific iron overload demonstrated co-localization of iron-induced ferritin and C3d deposits. Humans with aceruloplasminemia causing RPE iron overload had increased RPE C3d deposition. The molecular events in the iron-C3 pathway represent therapeutic targets for AMD or other diseases exacerbated by iron-induced local complement dysregulation.
Keywords: AMD; C3; CCAAT/Enhancer-binding Protein (C/EBP); Extracellular Signal-regulated Kinase (ERK); Iron; RPE; SMAD3; Signaling; Transforming Growth Factor β (TGF-β).
© 2015 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.