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Front Physiol. 2017 Aug 23;8:610. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00610. eCollection 2017.

A20/TNFAIP3 Discriminates Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF)-Induced NF-κB from JNK Pathway Activation in Hepatocytes.

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Molecular Hepatopathology, Institute of Pathology, University Hospital HeidelbergHeidelberg, Germany.
Institute of Pathology, RWTH Aachen University HospitalAachen, Germany.
Department of Modeling of Biological Processes, Centre for Organismal Studies, BioQuant, University of HeidelbergHeidelberg, Germany.


In the liver tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-induced signaling critically regulates the immune response of non-parenchymal cells as well as proliferation and apoptosis of hepatocytes via activation of the NF-κB and JNK pathways. Especially, the induction of negative feedback regulators, such as IκBα and A20 is responsible for the dynamic and time-restricted response of these important pathways. However, the precise mechanisms responsible for different TNF-induced phenotypes under physiological stimulation conditions are not completely understood so far. In addition, it is not known if varying TNF concentrations may differentially affect the desensitization properties of both pathways. By using computational modeling, we first showed that TNF-induced activation and downstream signaling is qualitatively comparable between primary mouse hepatocytes and immortalized hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells. In order to define physiologically relevant TNF levels, which allow for an adjustable and dynamic NF-κB/JNK pathway response in parenchymal liver cells, a range of cytokine concentrations was defined that led to gradual pathway responses in HCC cells (1-5 ng/ml). Repeated stimulations with low (1 ng/ml), medium (2.5 ng/ml) and high (5 ng/ml) TNF amounts demonstrated that JNK signaling was still active at cytokine concentrations, which led to dampened NF-κB signaling illustrating differential pathway responsiveness depending on TNF input dynamics. SiRNA-mediated inhibition of the negative feedback regulator A20 (syn. TNFAIP3) or its overexpression did not significantly affect the NF-κB response. In contrast, A20 silencing increased the JNK response, while its overexpression dampened JNK phosphorylation. In addition, the A20 knockdown sensitized hepatocellular cells to TNF-induced cleavage and activity of the effector caspase-3. In conclusion, a mathematical model-based approach shows that the TNF-induced pathway responses are qualitatively comparable in primary and immortalized mouse hepatocytes. The cytokine amount defines the pathway responsiveness under repeated treatment conditions with NF-κB signaling being dampened 'earlier' than JNK. A20 appears to be the molecular switch discriminating between NF-κB and JNK signaling when stimulating with varying physiological cytokine concentrations.


apoptosis; computational modeling; decision-making process; hepatocellular carcinoma; hepatocyte

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