Cytokines are secreted proteins that regulate cell growth and differentiation. These factors are especially important in regulating immune and inflammatory responses, regulating lymphoid development and differentiation. Cytokines also regulate immune homeostasis, tolerance, and memory. Not surprisingly, cytokines are critical in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. Understanding the molecular basis of cytokine action provides important insights into the pathogenesis of immune-mediated disease and offers new therapeutic targets. Cytokine receptors are associated with Janus family kinases (Jaks), which initiate signaling (see project AR041106-14). Following activation of Jaks, the next step in signaling is the activation of a family of transcription factors called Stats (signal transducers and activators of transcription) (see project AR041159-01). To better understand the molecular actions of cytokines, we performed transcriptional profiling of mouse and human T cells activated by interleukin (IL)-12. We identified a large number of inducible genes, some of which had been previously recognized as being IL-12-inducible. One such gene was the gene encoding the serine/threonine kinase Cot/Tpl2. This kinase was directly inducible by IL-12 and inhibited by IL-4. As IL-12 activates the transcription factor Stat4, we also assessed the dependence of inducible MAP3K8 expression in Stat4-deficient mice. Furthermore, using chromatin immunoprecipitation, we found that MAP3K8 was a direct Stat4 target. To define the role of MAP3K8, we studied MAP3K8 knockout mice. We found that Thelper1 differentiation of MAP3K8-/- mice was markedly deficient. We further found that this was associated with failure to upregulate the transcription factors Stat4 and Tbox21 (T-bet), thus explaining the failure to properly generate IFNg. Challenge of MAP3K8-deficient mice with Toxoplasma gondii showed that these mice had increased susceptibility to this model pathogen, consistent with the impaired ability to generate IFNg. Conversely, in the model of autoimmune disease that mimics multiple sclerosis, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis or EAE, MAP3K8-knockout mice had reduced severity of disease. Because EAE is a prototypic IL-17-driven disease, we are investigating the role of MAP3K8 in Th17 cell and Treg cell differentiation. The importance of T cell-expressed MAP3K8 in models of inflammatory bowel disease is also being ascertained. We also investigated the role of MAP3K8 in innate immune cells. We found that in dendritic cells (DC), MAP3K8 was critical for Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling. Interestingly, absence of MAP3K8 profoundly impaired TLR-dependent IL-1 production. Consequently, mice lacking MAP3K8 were highly susceptible to infection with Listeria monocytogenes.

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National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
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Watford, Wendy T; Wang, Chun-Chi; Tsatsanis, Christos et al. (2010) Ablation of tumor progression locus 2 promotes a type 2 Th cell response in Ovalbumin-immunized mice. J Immunol 184:105-13
Mielke, Lisa A; Elkins, Karen L; Wei, Lai et al. (2009) Tumor progression locus 2 (Map3k8) is critical for host defense against Listeria monocytogenes and IL-1 beta production. J Immunol 183:7984-93
Watford, Wendy T; Hissong, Bruce D; Durant, Lydia R et al. (2008) Tpl2 kinase regulates T cell interferon-gamma production and host resistance to Toxoplasma gondii. J Exp Med 205:2803-12