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The roles of the classical and alternative nuclear factor-kappaB pathways: potential implications for autoimmunity and rheumatoid arthritis

Keith D Brown, Estefania Claudio and Ulrich Siebenlist*

Author Affiliations

Immune Activation Section, Laboratory of Immune Regulation, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1876, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008, 10:212  doi:10.1186/ar2457

Published: 21 August 2008


Nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) is an inducible transcription factor controlled by two principal signaling cascades, each activated by a set of signal ligands: the classical/canonical NF-κB activation pathway and the alternative/noncanonical pathway. The former pathway proceeds via phosphorylation and degradation of inhibitor of NF-κB (IκB) and leads most commonly to activation of the heterodimer RelA/NF-κB1(p50). The latter pathway proceeds via phosphorylation and proteolytic processing of NF-κB2 (p100) and leads to activation, most commonly, of the heterodimer RelB/NF-κB2 (p52). Both pathways play critical roles at multiple levels of the immune system in both health and disease, including the autoimmune inflammatory response. These roles include cell cycle progression, cell survival, adhesion, and inhibition of apoptosis. NF-κB is constitutively activated in many autoimmune diseases, including diabetes type 1, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In this review we survey recent developments in the involvement of the classical and alternative pathways of NF-κB activation in autoimmunity, focusing particularly on RA. We discuss the involvement of NF-κB in self-reactive T and B lymphocyte development, survival and proliferation, and the maintenance of chronic inflammation due to cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-α, IL-1, IL-6, and IL-8. We discuss the roles played by IL-17 and T-helper-17 cells in the inflammatory process; in the activation, maturation, and proliferation of RA fibroblast-like synovial cells; and differentiation and activation of osteoclast bone-resorbing activity. The prospects of therapeutic intervention to block activation of the NF-κB signaling pathways in RA are also discussed.