Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) is a cytokine secreted by macrophages and adipocytes that contributes to the low grade inflammation and insulin resistance observed in obesity. TNFalpha signaling decreases peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma and glucose transporter isoform 4 (GLUT4) expression in adipocytes, impairing insulin action, and this is mediated in part by the yeast Ste20 protein kinase ortholog Map4k4. Here we show that Map4k4 expression is selectively up-regulated by TNFalpha, whereas the expression of the protein kinases JNK1/2, ERK1/2, p38 stress-activated protein kinase, and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases 4/7 shows little or no response. Furthermore, the cytokines interleukin 1beta (IL-1beta) and IL-6 as well as lipopolysaccharide fail to increase Map4k4 mRNA levels in cultured adipocytes under conditions where TNFalpha elicits a 3-fold effect. Using agonistic and antagonistic antibodies and small interfering RNA (siRNA) against TNFalpha receptor 1 (TNFR1) and TNFalpha receptor 2 (TNFR2), we show that TNFR1, but not TNFR2, mediates the increase in Map4k4 expression. TNFR1, but not TNFR2, also mediates a potent effect of TNFalpha on the phosphorylation of JNK1/2 and p38 stress-activated protein kinase and their downstream transcription factor substrates c-Jun and activating transcription factor 2 (ATF2). siRNA-based depletion of c-Jun and ATF2 attenuated TNFalpha action on Map4k4 mRNA expression. Consistent with this concept, the phosphorylation of ATF2 along with the expression and phosphorylation of c-Jun by TNFalpha signaling was more robust and prolonged compared with that of IL-1beta, which failed to modulate Map4k4. These data reveal that TNFalpha selectively stimulates the expression of a key component of its own signaling pathway, Map4k4, through a TNFR1-dependent mechanism that targets the transcription factors c-Jun and ATF2.
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