BACKGROUND: Tuberculosis (TB) of the central nervous system (CNS) is characterized by extensive tissue inflammation, driven by molecules that cleave extracellular matrix such as matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-1 and MMP-3. However, relatively little is known about the regulation of these MMPs in the CNS. METHODS: Using a cellular model of CNS TB, we stimulated a human microglial cell line (CHME3) with conditioned medium from Mycobacterium tuberculosis-infected primary human monocytes (CoMTb). MMP-1 and MMP-3 secretion was detected using ELISAs confirmed with casein zymography or western blotting. Key results of a phospho-array profile that detects a wide range of kinase activity were confirmed with phospho-Western blotting. Chemical inhibition (SB203580) of microglial cells allowed investigation of expression and secretion of MMP-1 and MMP-3. Finally we used promoter reporter assays employing full length and MMP-3 promoter deletion constructs. Student's t-test was used for comparison of continuous variables and multiple intervention experiments were compared by one-way ANOVA with Tukey's correction for multiple pairwise comparisons. RESULTS: CoMTb up-regulated microglial MMP-1 and MMP-3 secretion in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The phospho-array profiling showed that the major increase in kinase activity due to CoMTb stimulation was in p38 mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK), principally the alpha and gamma subunits. p38 phosphorylation was detected at 15 minutes, with a second peak of activity at 120 minutes. High basal extracellular signal-regulated kinase activity was further increased by CoMTb. Secretion and expression of MMP-1 and MMP-3 were both p38 dependent. CoMTb stimulation of full length and MMP-3 promoter deletion constructs demonstrated up-regulation of activity in the wild type but a suppression site between -2183 and -1612 bp. CONCLUSIONS: Monocyte-microglial network-dependent MMP-1 and MMP-3 gene expression and secretion are dependent upon p38 MAPK in tuberculosis. p38 is therefore a potential target for adjuvant therapy in CNS TB.
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