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1.  microRNA-mediated regulation of innate immune response in rheumatic diseases 
miRNAs have been shown to play essential regulatory roles in the innate immune system. They function at multiple levels to shape the innate immune response and maintain homeostasis by direct suppression of the expression of their target proteins, preferentially crucial signaling components and transcription factors. Studies in humans and in disease models have revealed that dysregulation of several miRNAs such as miR-146a and miR-155 in rheumatic diseases leads to aberrant production of and/or signaling by inflammatory cytokines and, thus, critically contributes to disease pathogenesis. In addition, the recent description of the role of certain extracellular miRNAs as innate immune agonist to induce inflammatory response would have direct relevance to rheumatic diseases.
PMCID: PMC3672773  PMID: 23582400
2.  TRAF6-Dependent Act1 Phosphorylation by the IκB Kinase-Related Kinases Suppresses Interleukin-17-Induced NF-κB Activation 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2012;32(19):3925-3937.
Interleukin-17 (IL-17) is critically involved in the pathogenesis of various inflammatory disorders. IL-17 receptor (IL-17R)-proximal signaling complex (IL-17R-Act1-TRAF6) is essential for IL-17-mediated NF-κB activation, while IL-17-mediated mRNA stability is TRAF6 independent. Recently, inducible IκB kinase (IKKi) has been shown to phosphorylate Act1 on Ser 311 to mediate IL-17-induced mRNA stability. Here we show that TANK binding kinase 1 (TBK1), the other IKK-related kinase, directly phosphorylated Act1 on three other Ser sites to suppress IL-17R-mediated NF-κB activation. IL-17 stimulation activated TBK1 and induced its association with Act1. IKKi also phosphorylated Act1 on the three serine sites and played a redundant role with TBK1 in suppressing IL-17-induced NF-κB activation. Act1 phosphorylation on the three sites inhibited its association with TRAF6 and consequently NF-κB activation in IL-17R signaling. Interestingly, TRAF6, but not TRAF3, which is the upstream adaptor of the IKK-related kinases in antiviral signaling, was critical for IL-17-induced Act1 phosphorylation. TRAF6 was essential for IL-17-induced TBK1 activation, its association with Act1, and consequent Act1 phosphorylation. Our findings define a new role for the IKK-related kinases in suppressing IL-17-mediated NF-κB activation through TRAF6-dependent Act1 phosphorylation.
PMCID: PMC3457531  PMID: 22851696
3.  Genomic signatures characterize leukocyte infiltration in myositis muscles 
BMC Medical Genomics  2012;5:53.
Leukocyte infiltration plays an important role in the pathogenesis and progression of myositis, and is highly associated with disease severity. Currently, there is a lack of: efficacious therapies for myositis; understanding of the molecular features important for disease pathogenesis; and potential molecular biomarkers for characterizing inflammatory myopathies to aid in clinical development.
In this study, we developed a simple model and predicted that 1) leukocyte-specific transcripts (including both protein-coding transcripts and microRNAs) should be coherently overexpressed in myositis muscle and 2) the level of over-expression of these transcripts should be correlated with leukocyte infiltration. We applied this model to assess immune cell infiltration in myositis by examining mRNA and microRNA (miRNA) expression profiles in muscle biopsies from 31 myositis patients and 5 normal controls.
Several gene signatures, including a leukocyte index, type 1 interferon (IFN), MHC class I, and immunoglobulin signature, were developed to characterize myositis patients at the molecular level. The leukocyte index, consisting of genes predominantly associated with immune function, displayed strong concordance with pathological assessment of immune cell infiltration. This leukocyte index was subsequently utilized to differentiate transcriptional changes due to leukocyte infiltration from other alterations in myositis muscle. Results from this differentiation revealed biologically relevant differences in the relationship between the type 1 IFN pathway, miR-146a, and leukocyte infiltration within various myositis subtypes.
Results indicate that a likely interaction between miR-146a expression and the type 1 IFN pathway is confounded by the level of leukocyte infiltration into muscle tissue. Although the role of miR-146a in myositis remains uncertain, our results highlight the potential benefit of deconvoluting the source of transcriptional changes in myositis muscle or other heterogeneous tissue samples. Taken together, the leukocyte index and other gene signatures developed in this study may be potential molecular biomarkers to help to further characterize inflammatory myopathies and aid in clinical development. These hypotheses need to be confirmed in separate and sufficiently powered clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3541209  PMID: 23171592
Myositis; Genomics; Leukocyte infiltration; Type 1 interferon; miR-146a
4.  Developing innovative targeted therapies for China 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2012;10(Suppl 2):A3.
PMCID: PMC3480045
5.  Altered Expression of Insulin Receptor Isoforms in Breast Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26177.
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signaling through human insulin receptor isoform A (IR-A) contributes to tumorigenesis and intrinsic resistance to anti-IGF1R therapy. In the present study, we (a) developed quantitative TaqMan real time-PCR-based assays (qRT-PCR) to measure human insulin receptor isoforms with high specificity, (b) evaluated isoform expression levels in molecularly-defined breast cancer subtypes, and (c) identified the IR-A:IR-B mRNA ratio as a potential biomarker guiding patient stratification for anti-IGF therapies.
Experimental Design
mRNA expression levels of IR-A and IR-B were measured in 42 primary breast cancers and 19 matched adjacent normal tissues with TaqMan qRT-PCR assays. The results were further confirmed in 165 breast cancers. The tumor samples were profiled using whole genome microarrays and subsequently subtyped using the PAM50 breast cancer gene signature. The relationship between the IR-A:IR-B ratio and cancer subtype, as well as markers of proliferation were characterized.
The mRNA expression levels of IR-A in the breast tumors were similar to those observed in the adjacent normal tissues, while the mRNA levels of IR-B were significantly decreased in tumors. The IR-A:IR-B ratio was significantly higher in luminal B breast cancer than in luminal A. Strong concordance between the IR-A:IR-B ratio and the composite Oncotype DX proliferation score was observed for stratifying the latter two breast cancer subtypes.
The reduction in IR-B expression is the key to the altered IR-A:IR-B ratio observed in breast cancer. The IR-A:IR-B ratio may have biomarker utility in guiding a patient stratification strategy for an anti-IGF therapeutic.
PMCID: PMC3202518  PMID: 22046260
6.  Human Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Accumulation Amplifies Their Type 1 Interferon Production 
Clinical immunology (Orlando, Fla.)  2010;136(1):130-138.
To determine the potential consequences of plasmacytoid dendritic cell (pDC) accumulation in tissue sites observed in several autoimmune diseases, we measured type 1 interferon production from circulating human pDCs as a function of pDC concentration. The effects of interferon-alpha and blockade of the type 1 interferon receptor (IFNAR) on human pDC type 1 interferon and interferon-inducible transcription and protein production were measured. Human pDCs became far more efficient producers of interferon-alpha at concentrations beyond those normally present in blood, through an IFNAR-dependent mechanism. Extracellular interferon-alpha increased pDC production of type 1 interferons. The accumulation of pDCs in diseased tissue sites allows marked non-linear amplification of type 1 interferon production locally. The role of the IFNAR-dependent mechanism of interferon production by human pDCs is greater than previously suggested. IFNAR blockade has potential for diminishing type 1 interferon production by all human cells.
PMCID: PMC2892243  PMID: 20346735
Type 1 interferons; Systemic lupus erythematosus; Myositis; Plasmacytoid dendritic cells
7.  Interferon-Stimulated Gene 15 (ISG15) Conjugates Proteins in Dermatomyositis Muscle with Perifascicular Atrophy 
Annals of neurology  2010;67(1):53-63.
Dermatomyositis (DM) is an autoimmune disease involving muscle and skin. Perifascicular atrophy (PFA) of myofibers is a specific and characteristic DM pathological lesion. Interferon-stimulated gene 15 (ISG15) is a ubiquitin-like modifier with a poorly understood immunological role.
We generated microarray data measuring the expression of approximately 18,000 genes in each of 113 human muscle biopsy specimens. Biopsy specimens and cultured skeletal muscle were further studied using immunohistochemistry, immunoblotting, proteomic profiling by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry, real-time quantitative PCR, and laser capture microdissection.
Transcripts encoding ISG15-conjugation pathway proteins were upregulated in DM with PFA (DM-PFA) muscle, with marked elevation of ISG15 (339-fold), HERC5 (62-fold), and USP18 (68-fold) present in all DM-PFA patients but none of 99 non-DM samples. Combined analysis with publicly available microarray datasets further showed marked ISG15 and USP18 transcript elevation had 100% sensitivity and specificity for 28 biopsies from adult DM-PFA and juvenile DM compared to 199 other muscle samples from a wide range of muscle diseases. Free ISG15 and ISG15-conjugated proteins were found by immunoblot only in DM-PFA muscle. Cultured human skeletal muscle exposed to type 1 interferons produced similar transcripts and both ISG15 protein and ISG15 conjugates. Laser capture microdissection followed by proteomic analysis showed deficiency of titin in DM perifascicular atrophic myofibers.
A large-scale microarray study of muscle samples from a diverse collection of muscle diseases revealed that the autoimmune disease dermatomyositis was uniquely associated with overactivation of the ISG15 conjugation pathway. Exposure of human skeletal muscle cell culture to type 1 interferons produces a molecular picture highly similar to that of human DM muscle biopsy specimens. Perifascicular atrophic myofibers in DM are deficient in a number of skeletal muscle proteins, most markedly titin.
PMCID: PMC2875060  PMID: 20186858
8.  Use of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs as pharmacodynamic markers and potential diagnostic markers in trials with sifalimumab, an anti-IFNα antibody, in systemic lupus erythematosus 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(Suppl 1):S6.
Type I interferons are implicated in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Type I interferon-inducible mRNAs are widely and concordantly overexpressed in the periphery and involved tissues of a subset of SLE patients, and provide utility as pharmacodynamic biomarkers to aid dose selection, as well as potential indicators of patients who might respond favorably to anti-IFNα therapy in SLE. We implemented a three-tiered approach to identify a panel of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs to be used as potential pharmacodynamic biomarkers to aid dose selection in clinical trials of sifalimumab, an anti-IFNα monoclonal antibody under development for the treatment of SLE. In a single-dose escalation phase 1 trial, we observed a sifalimumab-specific and dose-dependent inhibition of the overexpression of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs in the blood of treated subjects. Inhibition of expression of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs and proteins was also observed in skin lesions of SLE subjects from the same trial. Inhibiting IFNα resulted in a profound downstream effect in these SLE subjects that included suppression of mRNAs of B-cell activating factor belonging to the TNF family and the signaling pathways of TNFα, IL-10, IL-1β, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor in both the periphery and skin lesions. A scoring method based on the expression of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs partitioned SLE patients into two distinct subpopulations, which suggests the possibility of using these type I interferon-inducible genes as predictive biomarkers to identify SLE patients who might respond more favorably to anti-type I interferon therapy.
PMCID: PMC2991779  PMID: 20392292
9.  Development of Potential Pharmacodynamic and Diagnostic Markers for Anti-IFN-α Monoclonal Antibody Trials in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
To identify potential pharmacodynamic biomarkers to guide dose selection in clinical trials using anti-interferon-alpha (IFN-α) monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapy for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), we used an Affymetrix human genome array platform and identified 110 IFN-α/β-inducible transcripts significantly upregulated in whole blood (WB) of 41 SLE patients. The overexpression of these genes was confirmed prospectively in 54 additional SLE patients and allowed for the categorization of the SLE patients into groups of high, moderate, and weak overexpressers of IFN-α/β-inducible genes. This approach could potentially allow for an accurate assessment of drug target neutralization in early trials of anti-IFN-α mAb therapy for SLE. Furthermore, ex vivo stimulation of healthy donor peripheral blood mononuclear cells with SLE patient serum and subsequent neutralization with anti-IFN-α mAb or anti-IFN-α receptor mAb showed that anti-IFN-α mAb has comparable effects of neutralizing the overexpression of type I IFN-inducible genes as that of anti-IFNAR mAb. These results suggest that IFN-α, and not other members of type I IFN family in SLE patients, is mainly responsible for the induction of type I IFN-inducible genes in WB of SLE patients. Taken together, these data strengthen the view of IFN-α as a therapeutic target for SLE.
PMCID: PMC2950308  PMID: 20948567
10.  Correction: Type I Interferon: Potential Therapeutic Target for Psoriasis? 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(3):10.1371/annotation/fbcbcab9-2e87-4ec7-af6e-c6e9e64ad4b3.
PMCID: PMC2665006
11.  Type I Interferon: Potential Therapeutic Target for Psoriasis? 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(7):e2737.
Psoriasis is an immune-mediated disease characterized by aberrant epidermal differentiation, surface scale formation, and marked cutaneous inflammation. To better understand the pathogenesis of this disease and identify potential mediators, we used whole genome array analysis to profile paired lesional and nonlesional psoriatic skin and skin from healthy donors.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We observed robust overexpression of type I interferon (IFN)–inducible genes and genomic signatures that indicate T cell and dendritic cell infiltration in lesional skin. Up-regulation of mRNAs for IFN-α subtypes was observed in lesional skin compared with nonlesional skin. Enrichment of mature dendritic cells and 2 type I IFN–inducible proteins, STAT1 and ISG15, were observed in the majority of lesional skin biopsies. Concordant overexpression of IFN-γ and TNF-α–inducible gene signatures occurred at the same disease sites.
Up-regulation of TNF-α and elevation of the TNF-α–inducible gene signature in lesional skin underscore the importance of this cytokine in psoriasis; these data describe a molecular basis for the therapeutic activity of anti–TNF-α agents. Furthermore, these findings implicate type I IFNs in the pathogenesis of psoriasis. Consistent and significant up-regulation of type I IFNs and their associated gene signatures in psoriatic skin suggest that type I IFNs may be potential therapeutic targets in psoriasis treatment.
PMCID: PMC2481274  PMID: 18648529
12.  Type I Interferon–Inducible Gene Expression in Blood Is Present and Reflects Disease Activity in Dermatomyositis and Polymyositis 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2007;56(11):3784-3792.
To apply gene expression profiling to the study of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients with inflammatory myopathies, in order to provide insight into disease pathogenesis and identify potential biomarkers associated with disease activity.
We used Affymetrix whole-genome microarrays to measure the expression of ~38,500 genes in 65 blood and 15 muscle samples from 44 patients with dermatomyositis (DM), polymyositis (PM), inclusion body myositis (IBM), myasthenia gravis, or genetically determined myopathies and from 12 healthy volunteers. In 9 patients, 2 samples were obtained at different time points, when disease was either active or improving, and these paired blood samples were also compared. Bioinformatics techniques were used to identify genes with significant differential expression among diagnostic categories and in relation to disease activity. We corroborated the microarray data with quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction.
Most patients with active DM or PM, but not patients with IBM, had significant and high up-regulation of the type I interferon-α/β (IFNα/β)–inducible genes in blood. Furthermore, the up-regulation of these genes correlated with disease activity in DM and PM, with down-regulation occurring when disease was controlled with treatment.
DM and PM are diseases characterized by the systemic overexpression of IFNα/β-inducible genes. The magnitude of the overexpression of these genes is higher in DM and correlates with disease activity in both disorders. Although PM and IBM have been modeled as having similar immunologic processes occurring within muscle, there are substantial differences in the expression of IFNα/β-inducible genes in blood in these diseases.
PMCID: PMC2443782  PMID: 17968926
13.  The STE20 Kinase HGK Is Broadly Expressed in Human Tumor Cells and Can Modulate Cellular Transformation, Invasion, and Adhesion 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(6):2068-2082.
HGK (hepatocyte progenitor kinase-like/germinal center kinase-like kinase) is a member of the human STE20/mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase kinase family of serine/threonine kinases and is the ortholog of mouse NIK (Nck-interacting kinase). We have cloned a novel splice variant of HGK from a human tumor line and have further identified a complex family of HGK splice variants. We showed HGK to be highly expressed in most tumor cell lines relative to normal tissue. An active role for this kinase in transformation was suggested by an inhibition of H-RasV12-induced focus formation by expression of inactive, dominant-negative mutants of HGK in both fibroblast and epithelial cell lines. Expression of an inactive mutant of HGK also inhibited the anchorage-independent growth of cells yet had no effect on proliferation in monolayer culture. Expression of HGK mutants modulated integrin receptor expression and had a striking effect on hepatocyte growth factor-stimulated epithelial cell invasion. Together, these results suggest an important role for HGK in cell transformation and invasiveness.
PMCID: PMC149462  PMID: 12612079
14.  A phase 1b clinical trial evaluating sifalimumab, an anti-IFN-α monoclonal antibody, shows target neutralisation of a type I IFN signature in blood of dermatomyositis and polymyositis patients 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2013;73(1):256-262.
To assess the pharmacodynamic effects of sifalimumab, an investigational anti-IFN-α monoclonal antibody, in the blood and muscle of adult dermatomyositis and polymyositis patients by measuring neutralisation of a type I IFN gene signature (IFNGS) following drug exposure.
A phase 1b randomised, double-blinded, placebo controlled, dose-escalation, multicentre clinical trial was conducted to evaluate sifalimumab in dermatomyositis or polymyositis patients. Blood and muscle biopsies were procured before and after sifalimumab administration. Selected proteins were measured in patient serum with a multiplex assay, in the muscle using immunohistochemistry, and transcripts were profiled with microarray and quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR assays. A 13-gene IFNGS was used to measure the pharmacological effect of sifalimumab.
The IFNGS was suppressed by a median of 53–66% across three time points (days 28, 56 and 98) in blood (p=0.019) and 47% at day 98 in muscle specimens post-sifalimumab administration. Both IFN-inducible transcripts and proteins were prevalently suppressed following sifalimumab administration. Patients with 15% or greater improvement from baseline manual muscle testing scores showed greater neutralisation of the IFNGS than patients with less than 15% improvement in both blood and muscle. Pathway/functional analysis of transcripts suppressed by sifalimumab showed that leucocyte infiltration, antigen presentation and immunoglobulin categories were most suppressed by sifalimumab and highly correlated with IFNGS neutralisation in muscle.
Sifalimumab suppressed the IFNGS in blood and muscle tissue in myositis patients, consistent with this molecule's mechanism of action with a positive correlative trend between target neutralisation and clinical improvement. These observations will require confirmation in a larger trial powered to evaluate efficacy.
PMCID: PMC3888620  PMID: 23434567
Dermatomyositis; Polymyositis; Cytokines

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