TNFα is a very potent and pleiotropic pro-inflammatory cytokine, essential to the immune system for eradicating cancer and microorganisms, and to the nervous system, for brain development and ongoing function. Yet, excess and/or chronic TNFα secretion causes massive tissue damage in autoimmune, inflammatory and neurological diseases and injuries. Therefore, many patients with autoimmune/inflammatory diseases receive anti-TNFα medications. TNFα is secreted primarily by CD4+ T cells, macrophages, monocytes, neutrophils and NK cells, mainly after immune stimulation. Yet, the cause for the pathologically high and chronic TNFα secretion is unknown. Can blocking of a particular ion channel in T cells induce by itself TNFα secretion? Such phenomenon was never revealed or even hypothesized. In this interdisciplinary study we discovered that: (1) normal human T cells express Kv1.1 voltage-gated potassium channel mRNA, and the Kv1.1 membrane-anchored protein channel; (2) Kv1.1 is expressed in most CD4+CD3+ helper T cells (mean CD4+CD3+Kv1.1+ T cells of 7 healthy subjects: 53.09 ± 22.17 %), but not in CD8+CD3+ cytotoxic T cells (mean CD8+CD3+Kv1.1+ T cells: 4.12 ± 3.04 %); (3) electrophysiological whole-cell recordings in normal human T cells revealed Kv currents; (4) Dendrotoxin-K (DTX-K), a highly selective Kv1.1 blocker derived from snake toxin, increases the rate of rise and decay of Kv currents in both resting and activated T cells, without affecting the peak current; (5) DTX-K by itself induces robust TNFα production and secretion by normal human T cells, without elevating IFNγ, IL-4 and IL-10; (6) intact Ca2+ channels are required for DTX-induced TNFα secretion; (7) selective anti-Kv1.1 antibodies also induce by themselves TNFα secretion; (8) DTX-K activates NFκB in normal human T cells via the unique non-canonical-pathway; (9) injection of Kv1.1-blocked human T cells to SCID mice, causes recruitment of resident mouse cells into the liver, alike reported after TNFα injection into the brain. Based on our discoveries we speculate that abnormally blocked Kv1.1 in T cells (and other immune cells?), due to either anti-Kv1.1 autoimmune antibodies, or Kv1.1-blocking toxins alike DTX-K, or Kv1.1-blocking genetic mutations, may be responsible for the chronic/excessive TNFα in autoimmune/inflammatory diseases. Independently, we also hypothesize that selective block of Kv1.1 in CD4+ T cells of patients with cancer or chronic infectious diseases could be therapeutic, since it may: a. augment beneficial secretion and delivery of TNFα to the disease-affected sites; b. induce recruitment and extravasation of curative immune cells and factors; c. improve accessibility of drugs to the brain and few peripheral organs thanks to TNFα-induced increased permeability of organ’s barriers.
- Autoimmune diseases
- Non-canonical pathway
- Pro-inflammatory cytokines
- T cells
- Voltage-gated potassium channels