JAK/STAT Signalling in the Induction of the L-Arginine-Nitric Oxide Pathway in Macrophages and Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells
Garr, Edmund Dzigbordi
The production of Nitric Oxide (NO) under physiological conditions has beneficial roles in acting as a key signaling component of many biological processes as well as having an anti-microbial effect. However its effects following excess production by the inducible NO pathway is potentially detrimental in the pathogenesis of chronic inflammation including sepsis and several other inflammatory diseases. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate the expression of the inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) responsible for producing the excessive amounts of NO in disease states is therefore critical. In this regards, experiments were carried out to identify the signaling pathways that may mediate this process, focusing specifically on the JAK/STAT cascade. The reason for selecting the latter is because our research group, amongst others, has carried out extensive work investigating other signaling pathways, including the mitogen activated kinases (MAPK). Moreover, studies have also been carried out in an attempt to identify the critical role of JAK/STAT signaling for iNOS induction. These studies however failed to conclusively demonstrate whether, as with the MAPKs, the JAK/STATs may also play an essential role. Furthermore there is indeed controversy in the literature with researchers unable to agree whether expression of iNOS does require JAK/STAT activation. Thus, the aim of the project described in this thesis was to establish unequivocally whether activation of the JAK/STATs preceeds induction of iNOS. The studies were extended to L-arginine transport as well because the latter is widely reported to be induced in parallel with iNOS and substrate supply to iNOS may be critical for sustained NO production. Changes in transporter activity as well as their expression profiles were assessed. All experiments were carried out in either rat aortic smooth muscle cells (RASMCs) or in the J774 macrophage cell line. These cell types were selected because RASMCs are one of the prime targets for induced NO production in vascular inflammation and the macrophages are involved in host defence, acting in part through NO production. To establish the role of JAK/STATs, pharmacological and molecular approaches were used. Pharmacologically, two inhibitors were used and these were AG490 and JAK inhibitor I. The former is reported to be a selective JAK2 inhibitor and the other blocks all known JAK proteins. The potential of the GTPases to regulate the induction of iNOS was also examined using selective inhibitor known to regulate these proteins. In addition to these drugs, siRNA targeting JAK2 was also exploited and western blotting was extensively used to detect expression of various proteins including iNOS, native and phosphorylated JAK2 and TYK2. Changes in iNOS activity was monitored by determining nitrite production using the Griess assay and L-arginine transport was monitored using tritiated arginine (L-[3H]arginine). RASMCs were treated with a combination of LPS (100 µg/ml) and IFN- (100 U/ml) and the macrophages with LPS (1 µg/ml) to induce iNOS and transporter activity. Consistent with previous reports, the above treatment of both cell types resulted in the expression of iNOS, production of NO and enhanced transport of L-arginine. These effects were not affected by AG490 but blocked by JAK inhibitor I. Furthermore, although both cell types expressed the key JAKs (JAK2 and TYK2), neither of these proteins were phosphorylated under conditions of induced NO production. Moreover, siRNA experiments showed that JAK2 expression could be abolished without any significant change in NO production, confirming that at least JAK2 may not be required for this process. Whether TYK2 is involved still remains to be resolved as the phosphor-protein could not be detected. However the conclusive siRNA knockdown studies could not be carried out due to time and cost constraints. Apart from iNOS and NO production, changes in induced L-arginine transport were also not significantly affected under the experimental conditions described above suggesting that like with iNOS, induction of L-arginine transport is independent of at least JAK2. Interestingly however, STAT-1 was phosphorylated and this was blocked by JAK inhibitor I but not AG490. Thus, STAT-1 activation may be essential but its activation may be independent of the JAKs. One possible alternate upstream activator of STAT-1 may be the GTPases. Indeed these proteins have been indicated to phosphorylate STAT-1 independent of the JAKs. However, in this project, inhibition of the GTPase pathway enhanced NO production and L-arginine transport suggesting that the GTPases downregulate these processes. In conclusion, the studies carried out in this thesis have shown that induction of iNOS, NO production and L-arginine transport in both RASMCs and J774 macrophages are independent of JAK2 but require STAT-1 activation which may be phosphorylated independently of the JAKs. The role of other JAKs such as TYK2 although unlikely, will need to be resolved using a more specific approach such as siRNA.