Cachectin (tumor necrosis factor) is a macrophage hormone strongly implicated in the pathogenesis of endotoxin-induced shock. The availability of a DNA probe complementary to the cachectin messenger RNA (mRNA), as well as a specific antibody capable of recognizing the cachectin gene product, has made it possible to analyze the regulation of cachectin gene expression under a variety of conditions. Thioglycollate-elicited peritoneal macrophages obtained from mice contain a pool of cachectin mRNA that is not expressed as protein. When the cells are stimulated with endotoxin, a large quantity of additional cachectin mRNA is produced, and immunoreactive cachectin is secreted. Macrophages from mice of the C3H/HeJ strain do not produce cachectin in response to endotoxin. A dual defect appears to prevent cachectin expression. First, a diminished quantity of cachectin mRNA is expressed in response to low concentrations of endotoxin. Second, a post-transcriptional defect prevents the production of cachectin protein. Macrophages from endotoxin-sensitive mice do not produce cachectin if they are first treated with dexamethasone, apparently for similar reasons. These findings give new insight into the nature of the C3H/HeJ mutation and suggest an important mechanism by which glucocorticoids may act to suppress inflammation.
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