Background. Although interleukin-6 (IL-6) has been suggested to function as an autocrine growth factor in renal cell carcinoma (RCC), the underlying mechanism responsible for the IL-6-induced proliferation of RCC has not been defined. The aim of this study was to characterize the signaling cascades mediating IL-6-induced proliferation and to investigate the use of effective novel interventions to block the IL-6-induced autocrine growth of renal cancer cells. Methods. IL-6-induced proliferation and intracellular signaling cascades were analyzed in four human renal cancer cell lines Caki-1, ACHN, 769P and A498. IL-6-induced activation of STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription-1) and extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs), and the effects of anti-IL-6 neutralizing antibody, Jak inhibitor AG 490, and MEK1 inhibitor PD 98059 were analyzed by Western blotting using phospho-specific antibodies. The DNA-binding activities of STATs were analyzed by EMSA. Apoptosis was determined by using nuclear staining and the TUNEL assay. Changes in the apoptosis-related proteins, bcl-2, bcl-xL, and bax were analyzed by Western blotting. Results. IL-6 induced tyrosine phosphorylation and increased the DNA binding activity of STAT3 and, to a lesser extent, STAT1 in all cell lines except for Caki-1, which did not express the IL-6 receptor subunit gp130. ERKs were constitutively activated in all cell lines and the activation level was not up-regulated further by exogenously added IL-6 nor down-regulated by anti-IL-6 neutralizing antibody. IL-6-induced STAT3 tyrosine phosphorylation and DNA binding activity was inhibited by treatment with Jak specific inhibitor AG 490; however, it was not affected by the MEK1 inhibitor PD 98059. Moreover, treatment with AG 490 inhibited IL-6-induced proliferation of ACHN and 769P cells and induced apoptosis with the down-regulation of bcl-2 and the up-regulation of bax. Conclusions. This study identified STAT3, but not ERKs, to be a major mediator of IL-6-induced proliferation of renal cancer cells. Although ERKs were constitutively activated, ERKs were not found to be essential for the IL-6-induced proliferation and modulation of the STAT3 activity. Because the Jak specific inhibitor AG 490 effectively inhibited the IL-6-induced STAT3 activity and induced apoptosis, the blockade of the STAT3 signaling pathways is considered to be potentially useful as a novel therapeutic approach for RCC.
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