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Lithium regulates keratinocyte proliferation via glycogen synthase kinase 3 and NFAT2 (nuclear factor of activated T cells 2)

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Philip Hampton, Dr Ralph Jans, Dr Ross Flockhart, Graeme Parker, Professor Nick ReynoldsORCiD


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Certain environmental factors including drugs exacerbate or precipitate psoriasis. Lithium is the commonest cause of drug-induced psoriasis but underlying mechanisms are currently unknown. Lithium inhibits glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3). As lithium does not exacerbate other T cell mediated chronic inflammatory diseases, we investigated whether lithium may be acting directly on epidermal keratinocytes by inhibiting GSK-3. We report that lithium induced keratinocyte proliferation at therapeutically relevant doses (1-2mM) and increased the proportion of cells in S phase of the cell cycle. Inhibition of GSK-3 in keratinocytes by retroviral transduction of glycogen synthase kinase binding protein (an endogenous inhibitory protein) or through a highly selective pharmacological inhibitor also resulted in increased keratinocyte proliferation. Nuclear factor of activated T-cells (NFAT) is an important substrate for GSK-3 and for cyclosporin, an effective treatment for psoriasis that inhibits NFAT activation in keratinocytes as well as in lymphocytes. Both lithium and genetic/pharmacological inhibition of GSK-3 resulted in increased nuclear localisation of NFAT2 (NFATc1) and increased NFAT transcriptional activation. Finally, retroviral transduction of NFAT2 increased keratinocyte proliferation whereas siRNA mediated knockdown of NFAT2 reduced keratinocyte proliferation and decreased epidermal thickness in an organotypic skin equivalent model. Taken together, these data identify GSK-3 and NFAT2 as key regulators of keratinocyte proliferation and as potential molecular targets relevant to lithium-provoked psoriasis.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Hampton PJ, Jans R, Flockhart R, Parker G, Reynolds NJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Cellular Physiology

Year: 2012

Volume: 227

Issue: 4

Pages: 1529-1537

Print publication date: 15/06/2011

Acceptance date: 25/05/2011

ISSN (print): 0021-9541

ISSN (electronic): 1097-4652

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


DOI: 10.1002/jcp.22872


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)-Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre
NIHR Clinical Research Network
061178Wellcome Trust
067236Wellcome Trust
547(s)British Skin Foundation