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1.  The Role of MicroRNAs in Skin Fibrosis 
Archives of dermatological research  2013;305(9):763-776.
Fibrotic skin disorders may be debilitating and impair quality of life. There are few effective treatment options for cutaneous fibrotic diseases. In this review, we discuss our current understanding of the role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in skin fibrosis. MiRNAs are a class of small, noncoding RNAs involved in skin fibrosis. These small RNAs range from 18 to 25 nucleotides in length and modify gene expression by binding to target messenger RNA (mRNA), causing degradation of the target mRNA or inhibiting the translation into proteins. We present an overview of the biogenesis, maturation and function of miRNAs. We highlight miRNA’s role in key skin fibrotic processes including: transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta signaling, extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition, and fibroblast proliferation and differentiation. Some miRNAs are profibrotic and their upregulation favors these processes contributing to fibrosis, while antifibrotic miRNAs inhibit these processes and may be reduced in fibrosis. Finally we describe the diagnostic and therapeutic significance of miRNAs in the management of skin fibrosis. The discovery that miRNAs are detectable in serum, plasma, and other bodily fluids, and are relatively stable, suggests miRNAs may serve as valuable biomarkers to monitor disease progression and response to treatment. In the treatment of skin fibrosis, antifibrotic miRNAs may be upregulated using mimics and viral vectors. Conversely, profibrotic miRNAs may be downregulated by employing anti-miRNAs, sponges, erasers and masks. We believe that miRNA-based therapies hold promise as important treatments and may transform the management of fibrotic skin diseases by physicians.
PMCID: PMC3979452  PMID: 24022477
skin fibrosis; microRNA; miRNA; collagen; therapeutics
2.  The increase of microRNA-21 during lung fibrosis and its contribution to epithelial-mesenchymal transition in pulmonary epithelial cells 
Respiratory Research  2013;14(1):95.
The excess and persistent accumulation of fibroblasts due to aberrant tissue repair results in fibrotic diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Recent reports have revealed significant changes in microRNAs during idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and evidence in support of a role for microRNAs in myofibroblast differentiation and the epithelial-mesenchymal transition in the context of fibrosis. It has been reported that microRNA-21 is up-regulated in myofibroblasts during fibrosis and promotes transforming growth factor-beta signaling by inhibiting Smad7. However, expression changes in microRNA-21 and the role of microRNA-21 in epithelial-mesenchymal transition during lung fibrosis have not yet been defined.
Lungs from saline- or bleomycin-treated C57BL/6 J mice and lung specimens from patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis were analyzed. Enzymatic digestions were performed to isolate single lung cells. Lung epithelial cells were isolated by flow cytometric cell sorting. The expression of microRNA-21 was analyzed using both quantitative PCR and in situ hybridization. To induce epithelial-mesenchymal transition in culture, isolated mouse lung alveolar type II cells were cultured on fibronectin-coated chamber slides in the presence of transforming growth factor-β, thus generating conditions that enhance epithelial-mesenchymal transition. To investigate the role of microRNA-21 in epithelial-mesenchymal transition, we transfected cells with a microRNA-21 inhibitor. Total RNA was isolated from the freshly isolated and cultured cells. MicroRNA-21, as well as mRNAs of genes that are markers of alveolar epithelial or mesenchymal cell differentiation, were quantified using quantitative PCR.
The lung epithelial cells isolated from the bleomycin-induced lung fibrosis model system had decreased expression of epithelial marker genes, whereas the expression of mesenchymal marker genes was increased. MicroRNA-21 was significantly upregulated in isolated lung epithelial cells during bleomycin-induced lung fibrosis and human idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. MicroRNA-21 was also upregulated in the cultured alveolar epithelial cells under the conditions that enhance epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Exogenous administration of a microRNA-21 inhibitor prevented the increased expression of vimentin and alpha-smooth muscle actin in cultured primary mouse alveolar type II cells under culture conditions that induce epithelial-mesenchymal transition.
Our experiments demonstrate that microRNA-21 is increased in lung epithelial cells during lung fibrosis and that it promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition.
PMCID: PMC3849377  PMID: 24063588
microRNAs; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Pulmonary fibrosis; Alveolar type II cells; Lung single cell separation
3.  miR-199a-5p Is Upregulated during Fibrogenic Response to Tissue Injury and Mediates TGFbeta-Induced Lung Fibroblast Activation by Targeting Caveolin-1 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(2):e1003291.
As miRNAs are associated with normal cellular processes, deregulation of miRNAs is thought to play a causative role in many complex diseases. Nevertheless, the precise contribution of miRNAs in fibrotic lung diseases, especially the idiopathic form (IPF), remains poorly understood. Given the poor response rate of IPF patients to current therapy, new insights into the pathogenic mechanisms controlling lung fibroblasts activation, the key cell type driving the fibrogenic process, are essential to develop new therapeutic strategies for this devastating disease. To identify miRNAs with potential roles in lung fibrogenesis, we performed a genome-wide assessment of miRNA expression in lungs from two different mouse strains known for their distinct susceptibility to develop lung fibrosis after bleomycin exposure. This led to the identification of miR-199a-5p as the best miRNA candidate associated with bleomycin response. Importantly, miR-199a-5p pulmonary expression was also significantly increased in IPF patients (94 IPF versus 83 controls). In particular, levels of miR-199a-5p were selectively increased in myofibroblasts from injured mouse lungs and fibroblastic foci, a histologic feature associated with IPF. Therefore, miR-199a-5p profibrotic effects were further investigated in cultured lung fibroblasts: miR-199a-5p expression was induced upon TGFβ exposure, and ectopic expression of miR-199a-5p was sufficient to promote the pathogenic activation of pulmonary fibroblasts including proliferation, migration, invasion, and differentiation into myofibroblasts. In addition, we demonstrated that miR-199a-5p is a key effector of TGFβ signaling in lung fibroblasts by regulating CAV1, a critical mediator of pulmonary fibrosis. Remarkably, aberrant expression of miR-199a-5p was also found in unilateral ureteral obstruction mouse model of kidney fibrosis, as well as in both bile duct ligation and CCl4-induced mouse models of liver fibrosis, suggesting that dysregulation of miR-199a-5p represents a general mechanism contributing to the fibrotic process. MiR-199a-5p thus behaves as a major regulator of tissue fibrosis with therapeutic potency to treat fibroproliferative diseases.
Author Summary
Fibrosis is the final common pathway in virtually all forms of chronic organ failure, including lung, liver, and kidney, and is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Fibrosis results from the excessive activity of fibroblasts, in particular a differentiated form known as myofibroblast that is responsible for the excessive and persistent accumulation of scar tissue and ultimately organ failure. Idiopathic Lung Fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic and often rapidly fatal pulmonary disorder of unknown origin characterized by fibrosis of the supporting framework (interstitium) of the lungs. Given the poor prognosis of IPF patients, new insights into the biology of (myo)fibroblasts is of major interest to develop new therapeutics aimed at reducing (myo)fibroblast activity to slow or even reverse disease progression, thereby preserving organ function and prolonging life. MicroRNAs (miRNAs), a class of non-coding RNA recently identified, are associated with normal cellular processes; and deregulation of miRNAs plays a causative role in a vast array of complex diseases. In this study, we identified a particular miRNA: miR-199a-5p that governs lung fibroblast activation and ultimately lung fibrosis. Overall we showed that miR-199a-5p is a major regulator of fibrosis with strong therapeutic potency to treat fibroproliferative diseases such as IPF.
PMCID: PMC3573122  PMID: 23459460
4.  MicroRNA profiling implicates the insulin-like growth factor pathway in bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis in mice 
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a disease characterized by alveolar epithelial cell injury, inflammatory cell infiltration and deposition of extracellular matrix in lung tissue. As mouse models of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis display many of the same phenotypes observed in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, they have been used to study various aspects of the disease, including altered expression of microRNAs.
In this work, microRNA expression profiling of the lungs from treated C57BL/6J mice, relative to that of untreated controls, was undertaken to determine which alterations in microRNAs could in part regulate the fibrosis phenotype induced by bleomycin delivered through mini-osmotic pumps. We identified 11 microRNAs, including miR-21 and miR-34a, to be significantly differentially expressed (P < 0.01) in lungs of bleomycin treated mice and confirmed these data with real time PCR measurements. In situ hybridization of both miR-21 and miR-34a indicated that they were expressed in alveolar macrophages. Using a previously reported gene expression profile, we identified 195 genes to be both predicted targets of the 11 microRNAs and of altered expression in bleomycin-induced lung disease of C57BL/6J mice. Pathway analysis with these 195 genes indicated that altered microRNA expression may be associated with hepatocyte growth factor signaling, cholecystokinin/gastrin-mediated signaling, and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) signaling, among others, in fibrotic lung disease. The relevance of the IGF-1 pathway in this model was then demonstrated by showing lung tissue of bleomycin treated C57BL/6J mice had increased expression of Igf1 and that increased numbers of Igf-1 positive cells, predominantly in macrophages, were detected in the lungs.
We conclude that altered microRNA expression in macrophages is a feature which putatively influences the insulin-like growth factor signaling component of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3766165  PMID: 23987664
Pulmonary fibrosis; microRNA; Bleomycin; Insulin-like growth factor; Pathway analysis; Mouse model
5.  miR-29 Is a Major Regulator of Genes Associated with Pulmonary Fibrosis 
MicroRNAs (miRNA) are small regulatory RNAs that control gene expression by translational suppression and destabilization of target mRNAs. There is increasing evidence that miRNAs regulate genes associated with fibrosis in organs, such as the heart, kidney, liver, and the lung. In a large-scale screening for miRNAs potentially involved in bleomycin-induced fibrosis, we found expression of miR-29 family members significantly reduced in fibrotic lungs. Analysis of normal lungs showed the presence of miR-29 in subsets of interstitial cells of the alveolar wall, pleura, and at the entrance of the alveolar duct, known sites of pulmonary fibrosis. miR-29 levels inversely correlated with the expression levels of profibrotic target genes and the severity of the fibrosis. To study the impact of miR-29 down-regulation in the lung interstitium, we characterized gene expression profiles of human fetal lung fibroblast IMR-90 cells in which endogenous miR-29 was knocked down. This confirmed the derepression of reported miR-29 targets, including several collagens, but also revealed up-regulation of a large number of previously unrecognized extracellular matrix–associated and remodeling genes. Moreover, we found that miR-29 is suppressed by transforming growth factor (TGF)–β1 in these cells, and that many fibrosis-associated genes up-regulated by TGF-β1 are derepressed by miR-29 knockdown. Interestingly, a comparison of TGF-β1 and miR-29 targets revealed that miR-29 controls an additional subset of fibrosis-related genes, including laminins and integrins, independent of TGF-β1. Together, these strongly suggest a role of miR-29 in the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis. miR-29 may be a potential new therapeutic target for this disease.
PMCID: PMC3175558  PMID: 20971881
miR-29; pulmonary fibrosis; basement membrane; profibrotic genes; TGF-β1
6.  Molecular basis of cardiac endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT): Differential expression of microRNAs during EndMT 
Cellular Signalling  2012;24(5):1031-1036.
Fibroblasts are responsible for producing the majority of collagen and other extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins in tissues. In the injured tissue, transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)-activated fibroblasts or differentiated myofibroblasts synthesize excessive ECM proteins and play a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of fibrosis in heart, kidney and other organs. Recent studies suggest that fibroblast-like cells, derived from endothelial cells by endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT), contribute to the pathogenesis of cardiac fibrosis. The molecular basis of EndMT, however, is poorly understood. Here, we investigated the molecular basis of EndMT in mouse cardiac endothelial cells (MCECs) in response to TGF-β2. MCECs exposed to TGF-β2 underwent EndMT as evidenced by morphologic changes, lack of acetylated–low density lipoprotein (Ac-LDL) uptake, and the presence of alpha-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) staining. Treatment with SB431542, a small molecule inhibitor of TGF-β-receptor I (TβRI) kinase, but not PD98059, a MEK inhibitor, completely blocked TGF-β2-induced EndMT. The transcript and protein levels of α-SMA, Snail and β-catenin as well as acetyltransferase p300 (ATp300) were elevated in EndMT derived fibroblast-like cells. Importantly, microRNA (miRNA) array data revealed that the expression levels of specific miRNAs, known to be dysregulated in different cardiovascular diseases, were altered during EndMT. The protein level of cellular p53, a bonafide target of miR-125b, was downregulated in EndMT-derived fibroblast-like cells. Here, we report for the first time, the differential expression of miRNAs during cardiac EndMT. These results collectively suggest that TβRI serine-threonine kinase-induced TGF-β signaling and microRNAs, the epigenetic regulator of gene expression at the posttranscriptional level, are involved in EndMT and promote profibrotic signaling in EndMT-derived fibroblast-like cells. Pharmacologic agents that restrict the progression of cardiac EndMT, a phenomenon that is found in adults only in the pathological conditions, in targeting specific miRNA may be helpful in preventing and treating cardiac fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3298765  PMID: 22245495
Cardiac EndMT; TβRI kinase; microRNA; ATp300; Epigenetics; Fibrosis
7.  Inhibition and Role of let-7d in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis 
Rationale: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic, progressive, and usually lethal fibrotic lung disease characterized by profound changes in epithelial cell phenotype and fibroblast proliferation.
Objectives: To determine changes in expression and role of microRNAs in IPF.
Methods: RNA from 10 control and 10 IPF tissues was hybridized on Agilent microRNA microarrays and results were confirmed by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and in situ hybridization. SMAD3 binding to the let-7d promoter was confirmed by chromatin immunoprecipitation, electrophoretic mobility shift assay, luciferase assays, and reduced expression of let-7d in response to transforming growth factor-β. HMGA2, a let-7d target, was localized by immunohistochemistry. In mice, let-7d was inhibited by intratracheal administration of a let-7d antagomir and its effects were determined by immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence, quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction, and morphometry.
Measurements and Main Results: Eighteen microRNAs including let-7d were significantly decreased in IPF. Transforming growth factor-β down-regulated let-7d expression, and SMAD3 binding to the let-7d promoter was demonstrated. Inhibition of let-7d caused increases in mesenchymal markers N-cadherin-2, vimentin, and α-smooth muscle actin (ACTA2) as well as HMGA2 in multiple epithelial cell lines. let-7d was significantly reduced in IPF lungs and the number of epithelial cells expressing let-7d correlated with pulmonary functions. HMGA2 was increased in alveolar epithelial cells of IPF lungs. let-7d inhibition in vivo caused alveolar septal thickening and increases in collagen, ACTA2, and S100A4 expression in SFTPC (pulmonary-associated surfactant protein C) expressing alveolar epithelial cells.
Conclusions: Our results indicate a role for microRNAs in IPF. The down-regulation of let-7d in IPF and the profibrotic effects of this down-regulation in vitro and in vivo suggest a key regulatory role for this microRNA in preventing lung fibrosis.
Clinical trial registered with (NCT 00258544).
PMCID: PMC2913236  PMID: 20395557
epithelial–mesenchymal transition; HMGA2 (high-mobility group AT-hook 2); microRNA; transforming growth factor-β
8.  MicroRNAs in Kidney Fibrosis and Diabetic Nephropathy: Roles on EMT and EndMT 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:125469.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a family of small, noncoding RNAs that regulate gene expression in diverse biological and pathological processes, including cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and carcinogenesis. As a result, miRNAs emerged as major area of biomedical research with relevance to kidney fibrosis. Fibrosis is characterized by the excess deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM) components, which is the end result of an imbalance of metabolism of the ECM molecule. Recent evidence suggests that miRNAs participate in the fibrotic process in a number of organs including the heart, kidney, liver, and lung. Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) and endothelial mesenchymal transition (EndMT) programs play vital roles in the development of fibrosis in the kidney. A growing number of the extracellular and intracellular molecules that control EMT and EndMT have been identified and could be exploited in developing therapeutics for fibrosis. This review highlights recent advances on the role of miRNAs in the kidney diseases; diabetic nephropathy especially focused on EMT and EndMT program responsible for the development of kidney fibrosis. These miRNAs can be utilized as a potential novel drug target for the studying of underlying mechanism and treatment of kidney fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3780472  PMID: 24089659
9.  Arsenic trioxide inhibits transforming growth factor-β1-induced fibroblast to myofibroblast differentiation in vitro and bleomycin induced lung fibrosis in vivo 
Respiratory Research  2014;15(1):51.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive disease of insidious onset, and is responsible for up to 30,000 deaths per year in the U.S. Excessive production of extracellular matrix by myofibroblasts has been shown to be an important pathological feature in IPF. TGF-β1 is expressed in fibrotic lung and promotes fibroblast to myofibroblast differentiation (FMD) as well as matrix deposition.
To identify the mechanism of Arsenic trioxide’s (ATO)’s anti-fibrotic effect in vitro, normal human lung fibroblasts (NHLFs) were treated with ATO for 24 hours and were then exposed to TGF-β1 (1 ng/ml) before harvesting at multiple time points. To investigate whether ATO is able to alleviate lung fibrosis in vivo, C57BL/6 mice were administered bleomycin by oropharyngeal aspiration and ATO was injected intraperitoneally daily for 14 days. Quantitative real-time PCR, western blotting, and immunofluorescent staining were used to assess the expression of fibrotic markers such as α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and α-1 type I collagen.
Treatment of NHLFs with ATO at very low concentrations (10-20nM) inhibits TGF-β1-induced α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and α-1 type I collagen mRNA and protein expression. ATO also diminishes the TGF-β1-mediated contractile response in NHLFs. ATO’s down-regulation of profibrotic molecules is associated with inhibition of Akt, as well as Smad2/Smad3 phosphorylation. TGF-β1-induced H2O2 and NOX-4 mRNA expression are also blocked by ATO. ATO-mediated reduction in Smad3 phosphorylation correlated with a reduction of promyelocytic leukemia (PML) nuclear bodies and PML protein expression. PML-/- mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) showed decreased fibronectin and PAI-1 expression in response to TGF-β1. Daily intraperitoneal injection of ATO (1 mg/kg) in C57BL/6 mice inhibits bleomycin induced lung α-1 type I collagen mRNA and protein expression.
In summary, these data indicate that low concentrations of ATO inhibit TGF-β1-induced fibroblast to myofibroblast differentiation and decreases bleomycin induced pulmonary fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC4113202  PMID: 24762191
Arsenic trioxide; IPF; TGF-β1; Pulmonary fibrosis; PML; Bleomycin
10.  MicroRNA mimicry blocks pulmonary fibrosis 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2014;6(10):1347-1356.
Over the last decade, great enthusiasm has evolved for microRNA (miRNA) therapeutics. Part of the excitement stems from the fact that a miRNA often regulates numerous related mRNAs. As such, modulation of a single miRNA allows for parallel regulation of multiple genes involved in a particular disease. While many studies have shown therapeutic efficacy using miRNA inhibitors, efforts to restore or increase the function of a miRNA have been lagging behind. The miR-29 family has gained a lot of attention for its clear function in tissue fibrosis. This fibroblast-enriched miRNA family is downregulated in fibrotic diseases which induces a coordinate increase of many extracellular matrix genes. Here, we show that intravenous injection of synthetic RNA duplexes can increase miR-29 levels in vivo for several days. Moreover, therapeutic delivery of these miR-29 mimics during bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis restores endogenous miR-29 function whereby decreasing collagen expression and blocking and reversing pulmonary fibrosis. Our data support the feasibility of using miRNA mimics to therapeutically increase miRNAs and indicate miR-29 to be a potent therapeutic miRNA for treating pulmonary fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC4287936  PMID: 25239947
microRNA; mimic; miR-29; pulmonary fibrosis; therapeutics
11.  Cellular and molecular mechanisms of fibrosis 
The Journal of pathology  2008;214(2):199-210.
Fibrosis is defined by the overgrowth, hardening, and/or scarring of various tissues and is attributed to excess deposition of extracellular matrix components including collagen. Fibrosis is the end result of chronic inflammatory reactions induced by a variety of stimuli including persistent infections, autoimmune reactions, allergic responses, chemical insults, radiation, and tissue injury. Although current treatments for fibrotic diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, liver cirrhosis, systemic sclerosis, progressive kidney disease, and cardiovascular fibrosis typically target the inflammatory response, there is accumulating evidence that the mechanisms driving fibrogenesis are distinct from those regulating inflammation. In fact, some studies have suggested that ongoing inflammation is needed to reverse established and progressive fibrosis. The key cellular mediator of fibrosis is the myofibroblast, which when activated serves as the primary collagen-producing cell. Myofibroblasts are generated from a variety of sources including resident mesenchymal cells, epithelial and endothelial cells in processes termed epithelial/endothelial-mesenchymal (EMT/EndMT) transition, as well as from circulating fibroblast-like cells called fibrocytes that are derived from bone-marrow stem cells. Myofibroblasts are activated by a variety of mechanisms, including paracrine signals derived from lymphocytes and macrophages, autocrine factors secreted by myofibroblasts, and pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPS) produced by pathogenic organisms that interact with pattern recognition receptors (i.e. TLRs) on fibroblasts. Cytokines (IL-13, IL-21, TGF-β1), chemokines (MCP-1, MIP-1β), angiogenic factors (VEGF), growth factors (PDGF), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), acute phase proteins (SAP), caspases, and components of the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (ANG II) have been identified as important regulators of fibrosis and are being investigated as potential targets of antifibrotic drugs. This review explores our current understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of fibrogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2693329  PMID: 18161745
fibrosis; myofibroblast; collagen; wound healing; liver; lung
12.  Epigenetic Regulation of miR-17∼92 Contributes to the Pathogenesis of Pulmonary Fibrosis 
Rationale: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a disease of progressive lung fibrosis with a high mortality rate. In organ repair and remodeling, epigenetic events are important. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally and can target epigenetic molecules important in DNA methylation. The miR-17∼92 miRNA cluster is critical for lung development and lung epithelial cell homeostasis and is predicted to target fibrotic genes and DNA methyltransferase (DNMT)-1 expression.
Objectives: We investigated the miR-17∼92 cluster expression and its role in regulating DNA methylation events in IPF lung tissue.
Methods: Expression and DNA methylation patterns of miR-17∼92 were determined in human IPF lung tissue and fibroblasts and fibrotic mouse lung tissue. The relationship between the miR-17∼92 cluster and DNMT-1 expression was examined in vitro. Using a murine model of pulmonary fibrosis, we examined the therapeutic potential of the demethylating agent, 5′-aza-2′-deoxycytidine.
Measurements and Main Results: Compared with control samples, miR-17∼92 expression was reduced in lung biopsies and lung fibroblasts from patients with IPF, whereas DNMT-1 expression and methylation of the miR-17∼92 promoter was increased. Several miRNAs from the miR-17∼92 cluster targeted DNMT-1 expression resulting in a negative feedback loop. Similarly, miR-17∼92 expression was reduced in the lungs of bleomycin-treated mice. Treatment with 5′-aza-2′-deoxycytidine in a murine bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis model reduced fibrotic gene and DNMT-1 expression, enhanced miR-17∼92 cluster expression, and attenuated pulmonary fibrosis.
Conclusions: This study provides insight into the pathobiology of IPF and identifies a novel epigenetic feedback loop between miR-17∼92 and DNMT-1 in lung fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3603596  PMID: 23306545
microRNA; miR-17∼92; pulmonary fibrosis; DNA methylation; DNMT-1
13.  Analysis of deep sequencing microRNA expression profile from human embryonic stem cells derived mesenchymal stem cells reveals possible role of let-7 microRNA family in downstream targeting of Hepatic Nuclear Factor 4 Alpha 
BMC Genomics  2010;11(Suppl 1):S6.
Recent literature has revealed that genetic exchange of microRNA between cells can be essential for cell-cell communication, tissue-specificity and developmental processes. In stem cells, as in other cells, this can be accomplished through microvesicles or exosome mediated transfer. However, molecular profiles and functions of microRNAs within the cells and in their exosomes are poorly studied. Next generation sequencing technologies could provide a broad-spectrum of microRNAs and their expression and identify possible microRNA targets. In this work, we performed deep sequencing of microRNAs to understand the profile and expression of the microRNAs in microvesicles and intracellular environment of human embryonic stem cells derived mesenchymal stem cells (hES-MSC).
We outline a workflow pertaining to visualizing, statistical analysis and interpreting deep sequencing data of known intracellular and extracellular microRNAs from hES-MSC). We utilized these results of which directed our attention towards establishing hepatic nuclear factor 4 alpha (HNF4A) as a downstream target of let-7 family of microRNAs.
In our study, significant differences in expression profile of microRNAs were found in the intracellular and extracellular environment of hES-MSC. However, a high level of let-7 family of microRNAs is predominant in both intra- and extra- cellular samples of hES-MSC. Further results derived from visualization of our alignment data and network analysis showed that let-7 family microRNAs could affect the downstream target HNF4A, which is a known endodermal differentiation marker. The elevated presence of let-7 microRNA in both intracellular and extra cellular environment further suggests a possible intercellular signalling mechanism through microvesicles transfer. We suggest that let-7 family microRNAs might play a signalling role via such a mechanism amongst populations of stem cells in maintaining self renewal property by suppressing HNF4A expression. This is in line with recent paradigm where microRNAs regulate self-renewal and differentiation pathways of embryonic stem cells by forming an integral biological network with transcription factors.
In summary, our study using a combination of alignment, statistical and network analysis tools to examine deep sequencing data of microRNAs in hES-MSC has led to a result that (i) identifies intracellular and exosome microRNA expression profiles of hES-MSCwith a possible mechanism of miRNA mediated intercellular regulation by these cells and (ii) placed HNF4A within the cross roads of regulation by the let-7 family of microRNAs.
PMCID: PMC2822534  PMID: 20158877
Circulation. Heart failure  2009;2(6):633-642.
Previous studies suggest that transforming growth factor- beta (TGF-∃) provokes cardiac hypertrophy and myocardial fibrosis; however, it is unclear whether the deleterious effects of TGF-∃ signaling are conveyed through SMAD-dependent or SMAD-independent signaling pathways.
Methods and Results
To determine the contribution of SMAD dependent signaling to cardiac remodeling, we performed transaortic constriction (TAC) in SMAD3 null (SMAD3−/−) and littermate control mice (age 10–12 weeks). Cumulative survival 20 days post-TAC was significantly less in the SMAD3 −/− mice when compared to littermate controls (43.6% vs 90.9%, p<0.01). TAC resulted in a significant increase in cardiac hypertrophy in the SMAD3 −/− mice, denoted by an increase in the heart-weight-to-tibial length ratio and increased myocyte cross-sectional area. Loss of SMAD3 signaling also resulted in a significant 60% decrease in myocardial fibrosis (p < 0.05). A microRNA microarray showed that 55 microRNAs were differentially expressed in littermate and SMAD3−/− mice, and that 10 of these microRNAs were predicted to bind to genes that regulate the extracellular matrix. Of these 10 candidate microRNAs, both miR-25 and miR-29a were sufficient to decrease collagen gene expression when transfected into isolated cardiac fibroblasts in vitro.
The results suggest that SMAD3 signaling plays dual roles in the heart: one beneficial role by delimiting hypertrophic growth, and the other deleterious by modulating myocardial fibrosis, possibly through a pathway that entails accumulation of microRNAs that decrease collagen gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3064555  PMID: 19919989
Fibrosis; microRNA; pressure overload; hypertropy
15.  MicroRNAs and fibrosis 
Purpose of review
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding RNAs that inhibit gene expression in plants and animals. miRNAs have emerged as key players in virtually all aspects of mammalian biology. Aberrant miRNA expression is observed in numerous human diseases such as diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, cancer, and tissue fibrosis. Therefore, approaches to correct miRNA expression represent the novel therapeutic strategies for these diseases.
Recent findings
miRNAs are essential for kidney development and homeostasis. Aberrant miRNA expression is observed in the mouse models of kidney fibrosis. Three TGF-β-regulated miRNA families, miR-21, miR-200, and miR-29 have been shown to modulate renal fibrosis. miR-21, through a feed-forward loop, amplifies TGF-β signaling and promotes fibrosis. Conversely, miR-200 and miR-29 reduce fibrosis by inhibiting epithelial-tomesenchymal transition and preventing the deposition of extracellular matrix, respectively. Inhibition of miR-21 expression or augmenting miR-29 expression prevents kidney fibrosis in mice.
Aberrant miRNA expression perturbs signaling pathways that lead to progression of kidney fibrosis. Thus, miRNAs represent novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets in the treatment of kidney fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3399722  PMID: 22622653
kidney fibrosis; microRNA; miR-200; miR-21; miR-29
16.  Micromanaging microRNAs: using murine models to study microRNAs in lung fibrosis 
Drug discovery today. Disease models  2013;10(3):e145-e151.
MicroRNAs are implicated in many biological and pathological processes and are emerging as key actors in lung health and disease. Specific patterns of dysregulated microRNAs have been found in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), an untreatable interstitial lung disease of unknown etiology. IPF is characterized by dramatic and extensive phenotypic changes in the lung that include alveolar cell hyperplasia, fibroblast proliferation and formation of myofibroblast foci, deposition of extracellular matrix, and changes in lung transcriptional programming. Here, we discuss the latest insights about the role of microRNAs in lung fibrosis with a focus on the contribution of animal models of disease to the derivation of these insights.
PMCID: PMC4201640  PMID: 25328532
17.  Inhibitory Effects of microRNA 19b in Hepatic Stellate Cell-Mediated Fibrogenesis 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2012;56(1):300-310.
Hepatic stellate cell (HSC) activation is a pivotal event in initiation and progression of hepatic fibrosis and a major contributor to collagen deposition driven by transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ). microRNAs (miRs), small non-coding RNAs modulating mRNA and protein expression, have emerged as key regulatory molecules in chronic liver disease. We investigated differentially expressed miRs in quiescent and activated HSCs to identify novel regulators of profibrotic TGFβ signaling. miR microarray analysis was performed on quiescent and activated rat HSCs. Members of the miR-17-92 cluster (19a, 19b, 92a) were significantly down-regulated in activated HSCs. Since miR 19b showed the highest fold-change of the cluster members, activated HSCs were transfected with miR 19b mimic or negative control and TGFβ signaling and HSC activation assessed. miR 19b expression was determined in fibrotic rat and human liver specimens. miR 19b mimic negatively regulated TGFβ signaling components demonstrated by decreased TGFβ receptor II (TGFβRII) and SMAD3 expression. Computational prediction of miR 19b binding to the 3’UTR of TGFβRII was validated by luciferase reporter assay. Inhibition of TGFβ signaling by miR 19b was confirmed by decreased expression of type I collagen and by blocking TGFβ-induced expression of α1(I) and α2(I) procollagen mRNAs. miR 19b blunted the activated HSC phenotype by morphological assessment and decreased αSMA expression. Additionally, miR 19b expression was markedly diminished in fibrotic rat liver compared to normal liver; similarly, miR 19b expression was markedly down-regulated in fibrotic compared to normal human livers.
miR 19b is a novel regulator of TGFβ signaling in HSCs suggesting a potential therapeutic approach for hepatic fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3342471  PMID: 22278637
Transforming growth factor β; fibrosis; miR 19b; biomarker; hepatic stellate cell
18.  Increased Circulating miR-21 Levels Are Associated with Kidney Fibrosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e58014.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of noncoding RNA acting at a post-transcriptional level to control the expression of large sets of target mRNAs. While there is evidence that miRNAs deregulation plays a causative role in various complex disorders, their role in fibrotic kidney diseases is largely unexplored. Here, we found a strong up-regulation of miR-21 in the kidneys of mice with unilateral ureteral obstruction and also in the kidneys of patients with severe kidney fibrosis. In addition, mouse primary fibroblasts derived from fibrotic kidneys exhibited higher miR-21 expression level compared to those derived from normal kidneys. Expression of miR-21 in normal primary kidney fibroblasts was induced upon TGFβ exposure, a key growth factor involved in fibrogenesis. Finally, ectopic expression of miR-21 in primary kidney fibroblasts was sufficient to promote myofibroblast differentiation. As circulating miRNAs have been suggested as promising non-invasive biomarkers, we further assess whether circulating miR-21 levels are associated with renal fibrosis using sera from 42 renal transplant recipients, categorized according to their renal fibrosis severity, evaluated on allograft biopsies (Interstitial Fibrosis/Tubular Atrophy (IF/TA). Circulating miR-21 levels are significantly increased in patients with severe IF/TA grade (IF/TA grade 3: 3.0±1.0 vs lower grade of fibrosis: 1.5±1.2; p = 0.001). By contrast, circulating miR-21 levels were not correlated with other renal histological lesions. In a multivariate linear regression model including IF/TA grade and estimated GFR, independent associations were found between circulating miR-21 levels and IF/TA score (ß = 0.307, p = 0.03), and between miR-21 levels and aMDRD (ß = −0.398, p = 0.006). Altogether, these data suggest miR-21 has a key pathogenic role in kidney fibrosis and may represent a novel, predictive and reliable blood marker of kidney fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3585177  PMID: 23469132
19.  microRNA are Central Players in Anti- and Profibrotic Gene Regulation during Liver Fibrosis 
MicroRNA (miRNA) are small non-coding RNA molecules that posttranscriptionally effect mRNA stability and translation by targeting the 3′-untranslated region (3′-UTR) of various transcripts. Thus, dysregulation of miRNA affects a wide range of cellular processes such as cell proliferation and differentiation involved in organ remodeling processes. Divergent miRNA patterns were observed during chronic liver diseases of various etiologies. Chronic liver diseases result in uncontrolled scar formation ending up in liver fibrosis or even cirrhosis. Since it has been shown that miR-29 dysregulation is involved in synthesis of extracellular matrix proteins, miR-29 is of special interest. The importance of miR-29 in hepatic collagen homeostasis is underlined by in vivo data showing that experimental severe fibrosis is associated with a prominent miR-29 decrease. The loss of miR-29 is due to the response of hepatic stellate cells to exposure to the profibrogenic mediators TGF-β and PDGF-BB. Several putative binding sites for the Smad proteins and the Ap1 complex are located in the miR-29 promoter, which are suggested to mediate miR-29 decrease in fibrosis. Other miRNA are highly increased after profibrogenic stimulation, such as miR-21. miR-21 is transcriptionally upregulated in response to Smad-3 rather than Smad-2 activation after TGF-β stimulation. In addition, TGF-β promotes miR-21 expression by formation of a microprocessor complex containing Smad proteins. Elevated miR-21 may then act as a profibrogenic miRNA by its repression of the TGF-β inhibitory Smad-7 protein.
PMCID: PMC3307137  PMID: 22457651
microRNA; fibrosis; extracellular matrix; TGF-β; PDGF; Smad proteins; Ap1
20.  MicroRNA and nephropathy: emerging concepts 
Micro ribonucleic acids (miRNAs) are short noncoding RNAs that inhibit gene expression through the post-transcriptional repression of their target mRNAs. Increasing evidence shows that miRNAs have emerged as key players in diverse biologic processes. Aberrant miRNA expression is also closely related to various human diseases, including kidney diseases. From clinical and experimental animal studies, emerging evidence demonstrates a critical role for miRNAs in renal pathophysiology. Renal fibrosis is the hallmark of various chronic kidney diseases and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) is recognized as a vital mediator of renal fibrosis because it can induce production of extracellular matrix proteins resulting in dysfunction of the kidneys. The relationship between TGF-β signaling and miRNAs expression during renal diseases has been recently established. TGF-β positively or negatively regulates expression of several miRNAs, such as miR-21, miR-192, miR-200, and miR-29. Both miR-192 and miR-21 are positively regulated by TGF-β1/Smad3 signaling and play a pathological role in kidney diseases. Conversely, members of both miR-29 and miR-200 families are negatively regulated by TGF-β/Smad3 and play a protective role in renal fibrosis by inhibiting the deposition of extracellular matrix and preventing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, respectively. Clinically, levels of miRNAs in circulation and urine may be potential biomarkers for detecting early stages of renal diseases and targeting miRNAs also provides promising therapeutic effects in rodent models of chronic kidney disease. However, mechanisms and roles of miRNAs under disease conditions remain to be explored. Thus, understanding the function of miRNAs in the pathogenesis of kidney diseases may offer an innovative approach for both early diagnosis and treatment of renal diseases.
PMCID: PMC3792849  PMID: 24109192
microRNAs; kidney diseases; renal fibrosis; TGF-β signaling
21.  The types of hepatic myofibroblasts contributing to liver fibrosis of different etiologies 
Liver fibrosis results from dysregulation of normal wound healing, inflammation, activation of myofibroblasts, and deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM). Chronic liver injury causes death of hepatocytes and formation of apoptotic bodies, which in turn, release factors that recruit inflammatory cells (neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and lymphocytes) to the injured liver. Hepatic macrophages (Kupffer cells) produce TGFβ1 and other inflammatory cytokines that activate Collagen Type I producing myofibroblasts, which are not present in the normal liver. Secretion of TGFβ1 and activation of myofibroblasts play a critical role in the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis of different etiologies. Although the composition of fibrogenic myofibroblasts varies dependent on etiology of liver injury, liver resident hepatic stellate cells and portal fibroblasts are the major source of myofibroblasts in fibrotic liver in both experimental models of liver fibrosis and in patients with liver disease. Several studies have demonstrated that hepatic fibrosis can reverse upon cessation of liver injury. Regression of liver fibrosis is accompanied by the disappearance of fibrogenic myofibroblasts followed by resorption of the fibrous scar. Myofibroblasts either apoptose or inactivate into a quiescent-like state (e.g., stop collagen production and partially restore expression of lipogenic genes). Resolution of liver fibrosis is associated with recruitment of macrophages that secrete matrix-degrading enzymes (matrix metalloproteinase, collagenases) and are responsible for fibrosis resolution. However, prolonged/repeated liver injury may cause irreversible crosslinking of ECM and formation of uncleavable collagen fibers. Advanced fibrosis progresses to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The current review will summarize the role and contribution of different cell types to populations of fibrogenic myofibroblasts in fibrotic liver.
PMCID: PMC4105921  PMID: 25100997
liver fibrosis; myofibroblasts; hepatic stellate cells; portal fibroblast; fibrocyte; carbon tetrachloride
22.  miR-200a Prevents Renal Fibrogenesis Through Repression of TGF-β2 Expression 
Diabetes  2010;60(1):280-287.
Progressive fibrosis in the diabetic kidney is driven and sustained by a diverse range of profibrotic factors. This study examines the critical role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the regulation of the key fibrotic mediators, TGF-β1 and TGF-β2.
Rat proximal-tubular epithelial cells (NRK52E) were treated with TGF-β1 and TGF-β2 for 3 days, and expression of markers of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and fibrogenesis were assessed by RT-PCR and Western blotting. The expression of miR-141 and miR-200a was also assessed, as was their role as translational repressors of TGF-β signaling. Finally, these pathways were explored in two different mouse models, representing early and advanced diabetic nephropathy.
Both TGF-β1 and TGF-β2 induced EMT and fibrogenesis in NRK52E cells. TGF-β1 and TGF-β2 also downregulated expression of miR-200a. The importance of these changes was demonstrated by the finding that ectopic expression miR-200a downregulated smad-3 activity and the expression of matrix proteins and prevented TGF-β–dependent EMT. miR-200a also downregulated the expression of TGF-β2, via direct interaction with the 3′ untranslated region of TGF-β2. The renal expression of miR-141 and miR-200a was also reduced in mouse models representing early and advanced kidney disease.
miR-200a and miR-141 significantly impact on the development and progression of TGF-β–dependent EMT and fibrosis in vitro and in vivo. These miRNAs appear to be intricately involved in fibrogenesis, both as downstream mediators of TGF-β signaling and as components of feedback regulation, and as such represent important new targets for the prevention of progressive kidney disease in the context of diabetes.
PMCID: PMC3012183  PMID: 20952520
23.  Integrated analysis of microRNA and mRNA expression and association with HIF binding reveals the complexity of microRNA expression regulation under hypoxia 
Molecular Cancer  2014;13:28.
In mammalians, HIF is a master regulator of hypoxia gene expression through direct binding to DNA, while its role in microRNA expression regulation, critical in the hypoxia response, is not elucidated genome wide. Our aim is to investigate in depth the regulation of microRNA expression by hypoxia in the breast cancer cell line MCF-7, establish the relationship between microRNA expression and HIF binding sites, pri-miRNA transcription and microRNA processing gene expression.
MCF-7 cells were incubated at 1% Oxygen for 16, 32 and 48 h. SiRNA against HIF-1α and HIF-2α were performed as previously published. MicroRNA and mRNA expression were assessed using microRNA microarrays, small RNA sequencing, gene expression microarrays and Real time PCR. The Kraken pipeline was applied for microRNA-seq analysis along with Bioconductor packages. Microarray data was analysed using Limma (Bioconductor), ChIP-seq data were analysed using Gene Set Enrichment Analysis and multiple testing correction applied in all analyses.
Hypoxia time course microRNA sequencing data analysis identified 41 microRNAs significantly up- and 28 down-regulated, including hsa-miR-4521, hsa-miR-145-3p and hsa-miR-222-5p reported in conjunction with hypoxia for the first time. Integration of HIF-1α and HIF-2α ChIP-seq data with expression data showed overall association between binding sites and microRNA up-regulation, with hsa-miR-210-3p and microRNAs of miR-27a/23a/24-2 and miR-30b/30d clusters as predominant examples. Moreover the expression of hsa-miR-27a-3p and hsa-miR-24-3p was found positively associated to a hypoxia gene signature in breast cancer. Gene expression analysis showed no full coordination between pri-miRNA and microRNA expression, pointing towards additional levels of regulation. Several transcripts involved in microRNA processing were found regulated by hypoxia, of which DICER (down-regulated) and AGO4 (up-regulated) were HIF dependent. DICER expression was found inversely correlated to hypoxia in breast cancer.
Integrated analysis of microRNA, mRNA and ChIP-seq data in a model cell line supports the hypothesis that microRNA expression under hypoxia is regulated at transcriptional and post-transcriptional level, with the presence of HIF binding sites at microRNA genomic loci associated with up-regulation. The identification of hypoxia and HIF regulated microRNAs relevant for breast cancer is important for our understanding of disease development and design of therapeutic interventions.
PMCID: PMC3928101  PMID: 24517586
MicroRNA; Hypoxia; HIF; Transcription factor; Gene regulation
24.  Molecular mechanisms of AGE/RAGE-mediated fibrosis in the diabetic heart 
World Journal of Diabetes  2014;5(6):860-867.
Chronic hyperglycemia is one of the main characteristics of diabetes. Persistent exposure to elevated glucose levels has been recognized as one of the major causal factors of diabetic complications. In pathologies, like type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), mechanical and biochemical stimuli activate profibrotic signaling cascades resulting in myocardial fibrosis and subsequent impaired cardiac performance due to ventricular stiffness. High levels of glucose nonenzymatically react with long-lived proteins, such as collagen, to form advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGE-modified collagen increase matrix stiffness making it resistant to hydrolytic turnover, resulting in an accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. AGEs account for many of the diabetic cardiovascular complications through their engagement of the receptor for AGE (RAGE). AGE/RAGE activation stimulates the secretion of numerous profibrotic growth factors, promotes increased collagen deposition leading to tissue fibrosis, as well as increased RAGE expression. To date, the AGE/RAGE cascade is not fully understood. In this review, we will discuss one of the major fibrotic signaling pathways, the AGE/RAGE signaling cascade, as well as propose an alternate pathway via Rap1a that may offer insight into cardiovascular ECM remodeling in T2DM. In a series of studies, we demonstrate a role for Rap1a in the regulation of fibrosis and myofibroblast differentiation in isolated diabetic and non-diabetic fibroblasts. While these studies are still in a preliminary stage, inhibiting Rap1a protein expression appears to down-regulate the molecular switch used to activate the ζ isotype of protein kinase C thereby promote AGE/RAGE-mediated fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC4265872  PMID: 25512788
Type 2 diabetes mellitus; Cardiac fibrosis; Fibroblasts; Advanced glycation end product; Rap1a; Extracellular matrix
25.  miR-21 mediates fibrogenic activation of pulmonary fibroblasts and lung fibrosis 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2010;207(8):1589-1597.
Uncontrolled extracellular matrix production by fibroblasts in response to tissue injury contributes to fibrotic diseases, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and ultimately fatal process that currently has no cure. Although dysregulation of miRNAs is known to be involved in a variety of pathophysiologic processes, the role of miRNAs in fibrotic lung diseases is unclear. In this study, we found up-regulation of miR-21 in the lungs of mice with bleomycin-induced fibrosis and also in the lungs of patients with IPF. Increased miR-21 expression was primarily localized to myofibroblasts. Administration of miR-21 antisense probes diminished the severity of experimental lung fibrosis in mice, even when treatment was started 5–7 d after initiation of pulmonary injury. TGF-β1, a central pathological mediator of fibrotic diseases, enhanced miR-21 expression in primary pulmonary fibroblasts. Increasing miR-21 levels promoted, whereas knocking down miR-21 attenuated, the pro-fibrogenic activity of TGF-β1 in fibroblasts. A potential mechanism for the role of miR-21 in fibrosis is through regulating the expression of an inhibitory Smad, Smad7. These experiments demonstrate an important role for miR-21 in fibrotic lung diseases and also suggest a novel approach using miRNA therapeutics in treating clinically refractory fibrotic diseases, such as IPF.
PMCID: PMC2916139  PMID: 20643828

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