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Jing Lu, Joshua Reese, Ying Zhou and Emmet Hirsch

Parturition is an inflammatory process mediated to a significant extent by macrophages. Progesterone (P4) maintains uterine quiescence in pregnancy, and a proposed functional withdrawal of P4 classically regulated by nuclear progesterone receptors (nPRs) leads to labor. P4 can affect the functions of macrophages despite the reported lack of expression of nPRs in these immune cells. Therefore, in this study we investigated the effects of the activation of the putative membrane-associated PR on the function of macrophages (a key cell for parturition) and discuss the implications of these findings for pregnancy and parturition. In murine macrophage cells (RAW 264.7), activation of mPRs by P4 modified to be active only extracellularly by conjugation to BSA (P4BSA, 1.0×10−7 mol/l) caused a pro-inflammatory shift in the mRNA expression profile, with significant upregulation of the expression of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2 (Ptgs2)), Il1B, and Tnf and downregulation of membrane progesterone receptor alpha (Paqr7) and oxytocin receptor (Oxtr). Pretreatment with PD98059, a MEK1/2 inhibitor, significantly reduced P4BSA-induced expression of mRNA of Il1B, Tnf, and Ptgs2. Inhibition of protein kinase A (PKA) by H89 blocked P4BSA-induced expression of Il1B and Tnf mRNA. P4BSA induced rapid phosphorylation of MEK1/2 and CREB (a downstream target of PKA). This phosphorylation was inhibited by pretreatment with PD98059 and H89, respectively, revealing that MEK1/2 and PKA are two of the components involved in mPR signaling. Taken together, these results indicate that changes in membrane progesterone receptor alpha expression and signaling in macrophages are associated with the inflammatory responses; and that these changes might contribute to the functional withdrawal of P4 related to labor.

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Jiannan Zhang, Xin Li, Yawei Zhou, Lin Cui, Jing Li, Chenlei Wu, Yiping Wan, Juan Li and Yajun Wang

The interaction of melanocortin-4 (MC4R) and melanocortin-3 (MC3R) receptors with proopiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptides (e.g. α-MSH), agouti-related protein (AgRP) and melanocortin-2 receptor accessory protein 2 (MRAP2) is suggested to play critical roles in energy balance of vertebrates. However, evidence on their interaction in birds remains scarce. Our study aims to reveal their interaction in chickens and the results showed that (1) chicken (c-)MC3R and cMC4R expressed in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells can be activated by α-MSH and ACTH1–39 equipotently, monitored by a pGL3-CRE-luciferase reporter system; (2) cMC3R and cMC4R, when co-expressed with cMRAP2 (or cMRAP, a cMRAP2 homolog), show increased sensitivity to ACTH treatment and thus likely act as ACTH-preferring receptors, and the interaction between cMC3R/cMC4R and cMRAP2 was demonstrated by co-immunoprecipitation assay; (3) both cMC3R and cMC4R display constitutive activity when expressed in CHO cells, as monitored by dual-luciferase reporter assay, and cMRAP2 (and cMRAP) can modulate their constitutive activity; (4) AgRP inhibits the constitutive activity of cMC3R/cMC4R, and it also antagonizes ACTH/α-MSH action on cMC4R/cMC3R, indicating that AgRP functions as the inverse agonist and antagonist for both receptors. These findings, together with the co-expression of cMC4R, cMC3R, cMRAP2, cAgRP and cPOMC in chicken hypothalamus detected by quantitative real-time PCR, suggest that within the hypothalamus, α-MSH/ACTH, AgRP and MRAP2 may interact at the MC4R(/MC3R) interface to control energy balance. Furthermore, our data provide novel proof for the involvement of MRAP2 (and MRAP) in fine-tuning the constitutive activity and ligand sensitivity and selectivity of both MC3R and MC4R in vertebrates.

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Jing Li, Pan-Pan Zhao, Ting Hao, Dan Wang, Yu Wang, Yang-Zi Zhu, Yu-Qing Wu and Cheng-Hua Zhou

Urotensin II (U-II), a cyclic peptide originally isolated from the caudal neurosecretory system of fishes, can produce proinflammatory effects through its specific G protein-coupled receptor, GPR14. Neuropathic pain, a devastating disease, is related to excessive inflammation in the spinal dorsal horn. However, the relationship between U-II and neuropathic pain has not been reported. This study was designed to investigate the effect of U-II antagonist on neuropathic pain and to understand the associated mechanisms. We reported that U-II and its receptor GPR14 were persistently upregulated and activated in the dorsal horn of L4–6 spinal cord segments after chronic constriction injury (CCI) in rats. Intrathecal injection of SB657510, a specific antagonist against U-II, reversed CCI-induced thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia. Furthermore, we found that SB657510 reduced the expression of phosphorylated c-Jun N-terminal kinase (p-JNK) and nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) p65 as well as subsequent secretion of interleukin-1β (IL-1β), IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α). It was also showed that both the JNK inhibitor SP600125 and the NF-κB inhibitor PDTC significantly attenuated thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia in CCI rats. Our present research showed that U-II receptor antagonist alleviated neuropathic pain possibly through the suppression of the JNK/NF-κB pathway in CCI rats, which will contribute to the better understanding of function of U-II and pathogenesis of neuropathic pain.

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Xin-gang Yao, Xin Xu, Gai-hong Wang, Min Lei, Ling-ling Quan, Yan-hua Cheng, Ping Wan, Jin-pei Zhou, Jing Chen, Li-hong Hu and Xu Shen

Impaired glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) and increasing β-cell death are two typical dysfunctions of pancreatic β-cells in individuals that are destined to develop type 2 diabetes, and improvement of β-cell function through GSIS enhancement and/or inhibition of β-cell death is a promising strategy for anti-diabetic therapy. In this study, we discovered that the small molecule, N-(2-benzoylphenyl)-5-bromo-2-thiophenecarboxamide (BBT), was effective in both potentiating GSIS and protecting β-cells from cytokine- or streptozotocin (STZ)-induced cell death. Results of further studies revealed that cAMP/PKA and long-lasting (L-type) voltage-dependent Ca2 + channel/CaMK2 pathways were involved in the action of BBT against GSIS, and that the cAMP/PKA pathway was essential for the protective action of BBT on β-cells. An assay using the model of type 2 diabetic mice induced by high-fat diet combined with STZ (STZ/HFD) demonstrated that BBT administration efficiently restored β-cell functions as indicated by the increased plasma insulin level and decrease in the β-cell loss induced by STZ/HFD. Moreover, the results indicated that BBT treatment decreased fasting blood glucose and HbA1c and improved oral glucose tolerance further highlighting the potential of BBT in anti-hyperglycemia research.

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Ya Pei, Honggui Li, Yuli Cai, Jing Zhou, Xianjun Luo, Linqiang Ma, Kelly McDaniel, Tianshu Zeng, Yanming Chen, Xiaoxian Qian, Yuqing Huo, Shannon Glaser, Fanyin Meng, Gianfranco Alpini, Lulu Chen and Chaodong Wu

Adenosine 2A receptor (A2AR) exerts anti-inflammatory effects. However, the role of A2AR in obesity-associated adipose tissue inflammation remains to be elucidated. The present study examined the expression of A2AR in adipose tissue of mice with diet-induced obesity and determined the effect of A2AR disruption on the status of obesity-associated adipose tissue inflammation. WT C57BL/6J mice and A2AR-disrupted mice were fed a high-fat diet (HFD) for 12 weeks to induce obesity and adipose tissue inflammation. In vitro, bone marrow-derived macrophages from A2AR-disrupted mice and WT control mice were treated with palmitate and examined for macrophage proinflammatory activation. Compared with that of low-fat diet (LFD)-fed WT mice, A2AR expression in adipose tissue of HFD-fed WT mice was increased significantly and was present predominantly in adipose tissue macrophages. The increase in adipose tissue A2AR expression in HFD-fed mice was accompanied with increased phosphorylation states of c-Jun N-terminal kinase 1 p46 and nuclear factor kappa B p65 and mRNA levels of interleukin (Il)-1beta, Il6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha. In A2AR-disrupted mice, HFD feeding induced significant increases in adipose tissue inflammation, indicated by enhanced proinflammatory signaling and increased proinflammatory cytokine expression, and adipose tissue insulin resistance, indicated by a decrease in insulin-stimulated Akt phosphorylation relative to those in WT mice. Lastly, A2AR disruption enhanced palmitate-induced macrophage proinflammatory activation. Taken together, these results suggest that A2AR plays a protective role in obesity-associated adipose tissue inflammation, which is attributable to, in large part, A2AR suppression of macrophage proinflammatory activation.

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Jing Zhou, Honggui Li, Yuli Cai, Linqiang Ma, Destiny Matthews, Bangchao Lu, Bilian Zhu, Yanming Chen, Xiaoxian Qian, Xiaoqiu Xiao, Qifu Li, Shaodong Guo, Yuqing Huo, Liang Zhao, Yanan Tian, Qingsheng Li and Chaodong Wu

Adenosine 2A receptor (A2AR) exerts a protective role in obesity-related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Here, we examined whether A2AR protects against non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In C57BL/6J mice, feeding a methionine- and choline-deficient diet (MCD) resulted in significant weight loss, overt hepatic steatosis, and massive aggregation of macrophages in the liver compared with mice fed a chow diet. MCD feeding also significantly increased the numbers of A2AR-positive macrophages/Kupffer cells in liver sections although decreasing A2AR amount in liver lysates compared with chow diet feeding. Next, MCD-induced NASH phenotype was examined in A2AR-disrupted mice and control mice. Upon MCD feeding, A2AR-disruptd mice and control mice displayed comparable decreases in body weight and fat mass. However, MCD-fed A2AR-disrupted mice revealed greater liver weight and increased severity of hepatic steatosis compared with MCD-fed control mice. Moreover, A2AR-disupted mice displayed increased severity of MCD-induced liver inflammation, indicated by massive aggregation of macrophages and increased phosphorylation states of Jun-N terminal kinase (JNK) p46 and nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) p65 and mRNA levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-1 beta, and interleukin-6. In vitro, incubation with MCD-mimicking media increased lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced phosphorylation states of JNK p46 and/or NFκB p65 and cytokine mRNAs in control macrophages and RAW264.7 cells, but not primary hepatocytes. Additionally, MCD-mimicking media significantly increased lipopolysaccharide-induced phosphorylation states of p38 and NFκB p65 in A2AR-deficient macrophages, but insignificantly decreased lipopolysaccharide-induced phosphorylation states of JNK p46 and NFκB p65 in A2AR-deficient hepatocytes. Collectively, these results suggest that A2AR disruption exacerbates MCD-induced NASH, which is attributable to, in large part, increased inflammatory responses in macrophages.