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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Feb 24;101(8):2434-9.

The precursor form of IL-1alpha is an intracrine proinflammatory activator of transcription.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences and Cancer Research Center, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel.


Although most cytokines are studied for biological effects after engagement of their specific cell surface membrane receptors, increasing evidence suggests that some function in the nucleus. In the present study, the precursor form of IL-1alpha was overexpressed in various cells and assessed for activity in the presence of saturating concentrations of IL-1 receptor antagonist to prevent receptor signaling. Initially diffusely present in the cytoplasm of resting cells, IL-1alpha translocated to the to nucleus after activation by endotoxin, a Toll-like receptor ligand. The IL-1alpha precursor, but not the C-terminal mature form, activated the transcriptional machinery in the GAL4 system by 90-fold; a 50-fold increase was observed using only the IL-1alpha propiece, suggesting that transcriptional activation was localized to the N terminus where the nuclear localization sequence resides. Under conditions of IL-1 receptor blockade, intracellular overexpression of the precursor and propiece forms of IL-1alpha were sufficient to activate NF-kappaB and AP-1. Stable transfectants overproducing precursor IL-1alpha released the cytokines IL-8 and IL-6 but also exhibited a significantly lower threshold of activation to subpicomolar concentrations of tumor necrosis factor alpha or IFN-gamma. Thus, intracellular functions of IL-1alpha might play an unforeseen role in the genesis of inflammation. During disease-driven events, the cytosolic precursor moves to the nucleus, where it augments transcription of proinflammatory genes. Because this mechanism of action is not affected by extracellular inhibitors, reducing intracellular functions of IL-1alpha might prove beneficial in some inflammatory conditions.

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