Effects of glucocorticoids in macrophages
Glucocorticoids (GC) are powerful metabolic hormones with anti-inflammatory actions. Despite major side effects they remain widely prescribed therapies. GC regulates gene expression through an intracellular receptor (GR), which is a ligand activated transcription factor. Macrophages are innate immune cells and major targets of GC. Traditionally repression of pro-inflammatory genes in the context of an inflammatory stimulus has been considered the primary mode of action of GC in macrophages. The work described in this thesis has demonstrated that GC act primarily as inducers of gene expression in primary macrophages from both mouse and man, but the set of induced genes is very different between the two species. Chromatin immunoprecipitation and sequencing (ChIP-seq) in each species using anti-GR antibodies revealed candidate enhancers in the vicinity of inducible genes that were generally not shared between mouse and man. The differences in binding were correlated with DNA sequence changes at the enhancer sites between the two species, that caused gain or loss of predicted GR receptor-binding motifs. The mechanism of action of GC was investigated by imaging several different target loci using fluorescence in situ hybridisation in macrophage nuclei. Chromatin at specific GC responsive loci was found to decondense within minutes of exposure of macrophages to the ligand. The apparent decondensation was effect was maintained for at least 24 hours and was not prevented by inhibitors of transcription. The general principles of the GC response were shared between species. However the divergence found underlines the caution that must be used when translating specific findings from mouse to man. Additionally, the data support a role for GR driven changes to chromatin structure in gene regulation in macrophages.
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