Infection with adenovirus serotype 7 (Ad7) frequently causes lower respiratory pneumonia and is associated with severe lung inflammation and neutrophil infiltration. Earlier studies indicated release of proinflammatory cytokines, specifically interleukin-8 (IL-8), by pulmonary epithelial cells following infection by Ad7. However, the mechanism of IL-8 induction by Ad7 is unclear. We have explored the role of the Ras/Raf/MEK/Erk pathway in the Ad7-associated induction of IL-8 using a model system of A549 epithelial cells. We found that Ad7 infection induced a rapid activation of epithelial cell-derived Erk. The MEK-specific inhibitors PD98059 and U0126 blocked Erk activation and release of IL-8 following infection with Ad7. Treatment with PD98059 is cytostatic and not cytotoxic, as treated cells regain the ability to phosphorylate Erk and secrete IL-8 after removal of the drug. The expression of a mutated form of Ras in A549 epithelial cells blocked the induction of IL-8 promoter activity, and MEK inhibitor blocked induction of IL-8 mRNA. These results suggest that the Ras/Raf/MEK/Erk pathway is necessary for the Ad7 induction of IL-8 and that induction occurs at the level of transcription. Further, the kinetics of Erk activation and IL-8 induction suggest that an early viral event, such as receptor binding, may be responsible for the observed inflammatory response
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