Interleukin 6 (IL6) is a cytokine that regulates a number of important immune and inflammatory pathways. We used the ability of IL6 to inhibit the clonal proliferation of the mouse M1 myeloid leukemia cell line in agar to positively screen a cDNA expression library for proteins that inhibited IL6 activity. We found three clones completely resistant to IL6 that contained the cDNA for the Membrane-Associated RING-CH E3 ubiquitin ligase MARCH2. MARCH2 is a member of a family of membrane-bound E3 ubiquitin ligases that target cell surface receptors for degradation. MARCH2 overexpressing M1 clones retained responsiveness to the related cytokines leukemia inhibitory factor and oncostatin M and we showed that its inhibitory effect was a result of selective down-regulation of the IL6 receptor alpha chain and not the shared receptor subunit, gp130 or other signalling molecules. This activity of MARCH2 was also shared with related proteins MARCH4, MARCH9 and an isoform of MARCH3. The transmembrane domains and C-terminal domains, as well as a functional RING domain, of MARCH proteins were all required for substrate recognition and down-regulation. Genetic deletion of individual MARCH proteins in mice had no or little effect on IL6Rα levels but combined deletions of MARCH2,3 and 4 displayed elevated steady-state levels of IL6Rα in selected haemopoietic cell subsets including CD8+ and CD4+ T cells. These studies extend the potential immunosuppressive roles of MARCH proteins to include down-regulation of IL6 inflammatory responses.

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