TNF-α, a potent proinflammatory cytokine, is generated in a precursor form called transmembrane (m)TNF-α that is expressed as a type II polypeptide on the surface of certain cells. mTNF-α was shown to act both as a ligand by binding to TNF-α receptors, as well as a receptor that transmits outside-to-inside (reverse) signals back into the mTNF-α-bearing cells. In this study, we show that nonactivated macrophages express basal levels of mTNF-α and respond to anti-TNF-α Abs by triggering the MAPK kinase 4 signaling pathway. The pathway induces TGF-β. Based on inhibitory experiments, the production of TGF-β1 is regulated via Jun kinases, whereas that of other TGF-βs is regulated via p38 MAPKs. Exposure to LPS further induced the expression of mTNF-α, and triggering of mTNF-α strongly suppressed the LPS-induced proinflammatory response. Neutralizing TGF-β by Abs prevented the mTNF-α-mediated suppression of LPS-induced proinflammatory cytokine formation, indicating that the immunesuppressive effect of mTNF-α is mediated via TGF-β. Although apoptotic cells are also known to suppress LPS-induced proin-flammatory cytokine formation in macrophages by upregulating TGF-β, we show that they do not use the mTNF-α signaling pathway. Because TGF-β possesses a wide range of immune-suppressive effects, our data indicate that upregulation of TGF-β synthesis by those TNF-α-targeting molecules, which are able to trigger mTNF-α, might contribute to their therapeutic effect in the treatment of certain inflammatory diseases such as Crohn's disease, Wegener's granulomatosis, or sarcoidosis. Additionally, none of the TNF-α-targeting molecules is expected to interfere with the immune-silencing effects of apoptotic cells.
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