STAT1 and STAT3 are the main mediators of the signaling of interferons (IFNs) and of gp130 cytokines, respectively. Neoplastic T lymphocytes frequently become resistant to the IFN-gamma/STAT1 apoptotic pathway, often because of the downregulation of the IFN-gammaR2 receptor chain. Many studies suggest that cross-regulation between different STATs, in particular between STAT1 and STAT3, may profoundly affect cytokine/growth factor signaling. Here, the function of STAT3 in the negative regulation of STAT1 apoptotic pathway was investigated by RNA interference-mediated STAT3 silencing in human malignant T lymphocytes. In STAT3-depleted cells, interleukin (IL)-6 acquired the capacity to induce apoptosis, correlating with prolonged STAT1 activation and the induction of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I expression. In contrast, in the absence of STAT3, IFN-gamma could slightly enhance apoptosis but its ability to induce MHC class I expression was unchanged. Accordingly, IL-6, but not IFN-gamma, could significantly impair the in vivo growth of STAT3-depleted human neoplastic T lymphocytes transplanted into severe combined immunodeficient mice. Therefore, treatment with IL-6 and simultaneous STAT3 silencing may represent a potential therapeutic approach to control the expansion of IFN-gamma-unresponsive neoplastic T cells.
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