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Hypoxia and STAT3 signalling interactions regulate pro-inflammatory pathways in rheumatoid arthritis
  1. Wei Gao,
  2. Jennifer McCormick,
  3. Mary Connolly,
  4. Emese Balogh,
  5. Douglas J Veale,
  6. Ursula Fearon
  1. Translational Research Group, Dublin Academic Medical Centre, St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ursula Fearon, Department of Rheumatology, Dublin Academic Medical Centre, St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin 4, Ireland; ursula.fearon{at}


Objective To examine the effect of hypoxia on Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3 (STAT3)-induced pro-inflammatory pathways in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods Detection of phospho-STAT3 was assessed in RA synovial tissue and fibroblasts (RASFC) by immunohistology/immunofluorescence. Primary RASFCs and a normal synoviocyte cell line (K4IM) were cultured under hypoxic and normoxic conditions±Stat3-siRNA, HIF-siRNA or WP1066 (JAK2-inhibitor). HIF1α, p-STAT3, p-STAT1 and Notch-1IC protein expression were analysed by western blot. Functional mechanisms were quantified by invasion chamber, matrigel and migration assays. IL-6, IL-8, IL-10 and matrixmetalloproteinases (MMP)-3 were quantified by ELISA. Notch-1 receptor, its DLL-4 ligand and downstream target genes (hrt-1, hrt-2) were quantified by real-time PCR. The effect of WP1066 on spontaneous secretion of pro/anti-inflammatory cytokines and Notch signalling was examined in RA synovial explants ex vivo.

Results p-STAT3 was increased in RA synovium compared with control (p<0.05). Hypoxia induced p-STAT3, p-STAT1 and HIF1α expression, an effect blocked by Stat3-siRNA and WP1066. Hypoxia-induced cell invasion, migration and cytokine production were inhibited by Stat3-siRNA (p<0.05) and WP1066 (p<0.05). While HIF1α siRNA inhibited hypoxia-induced p-STAT3 detection, Stat3-siRNA also inhibited hypoxia-induced HIF1α. Furthermore, hypoxia-induced Notch-1IC, DLL4, hrt-1 and -2 expression were significantly inhibited by WP1066 (p<0.05). Finally, in RA synovial explant cultures ex vivo, WP1066 decreased spontaneous secretion of IL-6, IL-8 and MMP3 (p<0.05), Notch-1 mRNA (p<0.05) and induced IL-10 (p<0.05).

Conclusions This is the first study to provide evidence of a functional link between HIF1α, STAT3 and Notch-1 signalling in the regulation of pro-inflammatory mechanisms in RA, and further supports a role for STAT blockade in the treatment of RA.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Cytokines
  • Fibroblasts

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