The molecular mechanisms responsible for TNF-α-mediated MUC2 intestinal mucin up-regulation in HM3 colon adenocarcinoma cells were analyzed using promoter-reporter assays of the 5’-flanking region of the MUC2 gene. Chemical inhibitors, mutant reporter constructs, and EMSA confirmed I-kappaB/NF-kappaB pathway involvement. Wortmannin, LY294002 and dominant negative Akt, as well as dominant negative NF-kappaB-inducing kinase (NIK) inhibited MUC2 reporter transcription, indicating that both phosphatidylinositol-3-OH kinase (PI3K)/Akt signaling pathway and NIK pathways mediate the effects of TNF-alpha. Wortmannin inhibited NF-kappaB binding and transcriptional activity without inhibiting NF-kappaB translocation to the nucleus, indicating that PI3K/Akt signaling activates NF-kappaB transcriptional activity directly. Our results demonstrate that TNF-alpha up-regulates MUC2 in human colon epithelial cells via several signaling pathways, involving both NIK and PI3K/Akt, which converge at the common IKK/I-kappaB/NF-kappaB pathway. TNF-alpha activated JNK, but JNK inhibitor SP600125 and dominant negative cJun consistently activated transcription, revealing a negative role for this signaling pathway. Thus TNF-alpha causes a net up-regulation of MUC2 gene expression in cultured colon cancer cells because NF-kappaB transcriptional activation of this gene is able to counter-balance the suppressive effects of the JNK pathway. However, the existence of this inhibitory JNK pathways suggests a mechanism whereby - in the absence of NF-kappaB activation - TNF-alpha production during inflammation in vivo could actually inhibit MUC2 production, giving rise to the defective mucosal protection which characterizes inflammatory bowel disease.

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