In human parturition, uterotonic prostaglandins (PGs) arise predominantly via increased expression of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2 [also known as prostaglandin synthase 2]) within intrauterine tissues. Interleukin-1 (IL-1) and epidermal growth factor (EGF), both inducers of COX-2 transcription, are among numerous factors that accumulate within amniotic fluid with advancing gestation. It was previously demonstrated that EGF could potentiate IL-1β-driven PGE2 production in amnion and amnion-derived (WISH) cells. To define the mechanism for this observation, we hypothesized that EGF and IL-1β might exhibit synergism in regulating COX-2 gene expression. In WISH cells, combined treatment with EGF and IL-1β resulted in a greater-than-additive increase in COX-2 mRNA relative to challenge with either agent independently. Augmentation of IL-1β-induced transactivation by EGF was not observed in cells harboring reporter plasmids bearing nuclear factor-kappa B (NFκB) regulatory elements alone, but was evident when a fragment (−891/ 9) of the COX-2 gene 5′-promoter was present. Both agents transiently activated intermediates of multiple signaling pathways potentially involved in the regulation of COX-2 gene expression. The 26 S proteasome inhibitor, MG-132, selectively abrogated IL-1β-driven NFκB activation and COX-2 mRNA expression. Only pharmacologic blockade of the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase eliminated COX-2 expression following EGF stimulation. We conclude that EGF and IL-1β appear to signal through different signaling cascades leading to COX-2 gene expression. IL-1β employs the NFκB pathway predominantly, while the spectrum of EGF signaling is broader and includes p38 kinase. The synergism observed between IL-1β and EGF does not rely on augmented NFκB function, but rather, occurs through differential use of independent response elements within the COX-2 promoter.
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