Lead (Pb2+) is one of the most common heavy metal pollutants, which can cause chronic cardiovascular diseases. To clarify the mechanism by which Pb2+ induces inflammatory reactions, we examined the expression of inflammatory genes including encoding cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), cytosolic phospholipase A2 (cPLA2), and their down stream product prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in CRL1999 cells that is a vascular smooth muscle cell line from human aorta. The expression of COX-2/cPLA2 genes and PGE2 secretion was increased markedly after cells were exposed to 1μM Pb2+. PD098059, a MEK inhibitor, suppressed Pb2+-mediated inflammatory reactions; this indicates the involvement of the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2). Furthermore, Pb2+-induced activation of the COX-2/cPLA2 genes was inhibited by both epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors (AG1478 and PD153035) and EGFR siRNA. Short-term stimulation with Pb2+ induced EGFR phosphorylation at the Tyr residue (position, 1173). Importantly, overexpression of EGFR resulted in a significant potentiation effect on Pb2+-induced gene expression. Taken together, our results indicate that 1μM Pb2+ can induce PGE2 secretion by upregulating the transcription of COX-2/cPLA2 genes. EGFR is the key target in the plasma membrane responsible for transmitting Pb2+ signals in order to trigger downstream inflammatory cascades.
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