Background: Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress has proinflammatory properties, and transgenic animal studies of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) indicate its relevance in the process of joint destruction. Because currently available studies are focused primarily on myeloid cells, we assessed how ER stress might affect the inflammatory responses of stromal cells in RA.
Methods: ER stress was induced in RA fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS), dermal fibroblasts, and macrophages with thapsigargin or tunicamycin alone or in combination with Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands, and gene expression and messenger RNA (mRNA) stability was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Cellular viability was measured using cell death enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays and 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide assays, and signaling pathway activation was analyzed by immunoblotting.
Results: No cytotoxicity was observed in FLS exposed to thapsigargin, despite significant induction of ER stress markers. Screening of 84 proinflammatory genes revealed minor changes in their expression (fold change 90th percentile range 2.8-8.3) by thapsigargin alone, but the vast majority were hyperinduced during combined stimulation with thapsigargin and TLR ligands (35% greater than fivefold vs lipopolysaccharide alone). The synergistic response could not be explained by quantitative effects on nuclear factor-κB and mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways alone, but it was dependent on increased mRNA stability. mRNA stabilization was similarly enhanced by ER stress in dermal fibroblasts but not in macrophages, correlating with minimal cooperative effects on gene induction in macrophages.
Conclusions: RA FLS are resistant to apoptosis induced by ER stress, but ER stress potentiates their activation by multiple TLR ligands. Interfering with downstream signaling pathway components of ER stress may be of therapeutic potential in the treatment of RA.
Keywords: Dermal fibroblasts; ER stress; Fibroblast-like synoviocytes; Inflammation; Macrophages; RNA stability; Rheumatoid arthritis.