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J Immunol. 2001 Jul 1;167(1):173-80.

TNF-alpha-induced sphingosine 1-phosphate inhibits apoptosis through a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt pathway in human hepatocytes.

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  • 1First Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Biochemistry, Gifu University School of Medicine, Gifu, Japan.


Human hepatocytes usually are resistant to TNF-alpha cytotoxicity. In mouse or rat hepatocytes, repression of NF-kappaB activation is sufficient to induce TNF-alpha-mediated apoptosis. However, in both Huh-7 human hepatoma cells and Hc human normal hepatocytes, when infected with an adenovirus expressing a mutated form of IkappaBalpha (Ad5IkappaB), which almost completely blocks NF-kappaB activation, >80% of the cells survived 24 h after TNF-alpha stimulation. Here, we report that TNF-alpha activates other antiapoptotic factors, such as sphingosine kinase (SphK), phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), and Akt kinase. Pretreatment of cells with N,N-dimethylsphingosine (DMS), an inhibitor of SphK, or LY 294002, an inhibitor of PI3K that acts upstream of Akt, increased the number of apoptotic cells induced by TNF-alpha in Ad5IkappaB-infected Huh-7 and Hc cells. TNF-alpha-induced activations of PI3K and Akt were inhibited by DMS. In contrast, exogenous sphingosine 1-phosphate, a product of SphK, was found to activate Akt and partially rescued the cells from TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis. Although Akt has been reported to activate NF-kappaB, DMS and LY 294002 failed to prevent TNF-alpha-induced NF-kappaB activation, suggesting that the antiapoptotic effects of SphK and Akt are independent of NF-kappaB. Furthermore, apoptosis mediated by Fas ligand (FasL) involving Akt activation also was potentiated by DMS pretreatment in Hc cells. Sphingosine 1-phosphate administration partially protected cells from FasL-mediated apoptosis. These results indicate that not only NF-kappaB but also SphK and PI3K/Akt are involved in the signaling pathway(s) for protection of human hepatocytes from the apoptotic action of TNF-alpha and probably FasL.

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