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1.  Transcriptome Analysis Reveals Differential Splicing Events in IPF Lung Tissue 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92111.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a complex disease in which a multitude of proteins and networks are disrupted. Interrogation of the transcriptome through RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) enables the determination of genes whose differential expression is most significant in IPF, as well as the detection of alternative splicing events which are not easily observed with traditional microarray experiments. We sequenced messenger RNA from 8 IPF lung samples and 7 healthy controls on an Illumina HiSeq 2000, and found evidence for substantial differential gene expression and differential splicing. 873 genes were differentially expressed in IPF (FDR<5%), and 440 unique genes had significant differential splicing events in at least one exonic region (FDR<5%). We used qPCR to validate the differential exon usage in the second and third most significant exonic regions, in the genes COL6A3 (RNA-Seq adjusted pval = 7.18e-10) and POSTN (RNA-Seq adjusted pval = 2.06e-09), which encode the extracellular matrix proteins collagen alpha-3(VI) and periostin. The increased gene-level expression of periostin has been associated with IPF and its clinical progression, but its differential splicing has not been studied in the context of this disease. Our results suggest that alternative splicing of these and other genes may be involved in the pathogenesis of IPF. We have developed an interactive web application which allows users to explore the results of our RNA-Seq experiment, as well as those of two previously published microarray experiments, and we hope that this will serve as a resource for future investigations of gene regulation in IPF.
PMCID: PMC3960165  PMID: 24647608
2.  The Membrane-Associated Adaptor Protein DOK5 Is Upregulated in Systemic Sclerosis and Associated with IGFBP-5-Induced Fibrosis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87754.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is characterized by excessive fibrosis of the skin and internal organs due to fibroblast proliferation and excessive production of extracellular matrix (ECM). We have shown that insulin-like growth factor binding protein (IGFBP)-5 plays an important role in the development of fibrosis in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo. We identified a membrane-associated adaptor protein, downstream of tyrosine kinase/docking protein (DOK)5, as an IGFBP-5-regulated target gene using gene expression profiling of primary fibroblasts expressing IGFBP-5. DOK5 is a tyrosine kinase substrate associated with intracellular signaling. Our objective was to determine the role of DOK5 in the pathogenesis of SSc and specifically in IGFBP-5-induced fibrosis. DOK5 mRNA and protein levels were increased in vitro by endogenous and exogenous IGFBP-5 in primary human fibroblasts. DOK5 upregulation required activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling cascade. Further, IGFBP-5 triggered nuclear translocation of DOK5. DOK5 protein levels were also increased in vivo in mouse skin and lung by IGFBP-5. To determine the effect of DOK5 on fibrosis, DOK5 was expressed ex vivo in human skin in organ culture. Expression of DOK5 in human skin resulted in a significant increase in dermal thickness. Lastly, levels of DOK5 were compared in primary fibroblasts and lung tissues of patients with SSc and healthy donors. Both DOK5 mRNA and protein levels were significantly increased in fibroblasts and skin tissues of patients with SSc compared with those of healthy controls, as well as in lung tissues of SSc patients. Our findings suggest that IGFBP-5 induces its pro-fibrotic effects, at least in part, via DOK5. Furthermore, IGFBP-5 and DOK5 are both increased in SSc fibroblasts and tissues and may thus be acting in concert to promote fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3923757  PMID: 24551065
3.  Correction: The K+ Channel KCa3.1 as a Novel Target for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis  
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):10.1371/annotation/790e86f8-3506-49d6-b7d0-7dbbc580d808.
PMCID: PMC3897356
4.  Semaphorin 7a+ Regulatory T Cells Are Associated with Progressive Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and Are Implicated in Transforming Growth Factor-β1–induced Pulmonary Fibrosis 
Rationale: Lymphocytes are increasingly associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Semaphorin 7a (Sema 7a) participates in lymphocyte activation.
Objectives: To define the relationship between Sema 7a and lymphocytes in IPF.
Methods: We characterized the significance of Sema 7a+ lymphocytes in humans with IPF and in a mouse model of lung fibrosis caused by lung-targeted, transgenic overexpression of TGF-β1. We determined the site of Sema 7a expression in human and murine lungs and circulation and used adoptive transfer approaches to define the relevance of lymphocytes coexpressing Sema7a and the markers CD19, CD4, or CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ in TGF-β1–induced murine lung fibrosis.
Measurements and Main Results: Subjects with IPF show expression of Sema 7a on lung CD4+ cells and circulating CD4+ or CD19+ cells. Sema 7a expression is increased on CD4+ cells and CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ regulatory T cells, but not CD19+ cells, in subjects with progressive IPF. Sema 7a is expressed on lymphocytes expressing CD4 but not CD19 in the lungs and spleen of TGF-β1–transgenic mice. Sema 7a expressing bone marrow–derived cells induce lung fibrosis and alter the production of T-cell mediators, including IFN-γ, IL-4, IL-17A, and IL-10. These effects require CD4 but not CD19. In comparison to Sema 7a-CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ cells, Sema7a+CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ cells exhibit reduced expression of regulatory genes such as IL-10, and adoptive transfer of these cells induces fibrosis and remodeling in the TGF-β1–exposed murine lung.
Conclusions: Sema 7a+CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ regulatory T cells are associated with disease progression in subjects with IPF and induce fibrosis in the TGF-β1–exposed murine lung.
PMCID: PMC3570653  PMID: 23220917
Semaphorin; lung; fibrosis; TGF-β1; regulatory T cells
5.  IL-13-producing CD8+ T cells mediate dermal fibrosis in patients with systemic sclerosis 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2013;65(1):236-246.
Fibrosis is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality in systemic sclerosis (SSc). T cells are the predominant inflammatory infiltrate in affected tissues and are thought to produce cytokines that drive the synthesis of extracellular matrix proteins by fibroblasts, resulting in excessive fibrosis. We showed that aberrant IL-13 production by peripheral blood effector CD8+ T cells from SSc patients correlates with the extent of skin fibrosis. Here we investigate the role of IL-13 production by CD8+ T cells in dermal fibrosis, an early and specific manifestation of SSc.
Extracellular matrix production by normal dermal fibroblasts co-cultured with SSc CD8+ T-cell-supernatants was determined by quantitative PCR and Western blot. Skin-homing receptor expression and IL-13 production by peripheral blood SSc CD8+ T cells were measured by flow cytometry, whereas immunohistochemistry identified IL-13+ and CD8+ cells in sclerotic skin.
IL-13-producing circulating SSc CD8+ T cells express skin-homing receptors and induce a pro-fibrotic phenotype in normal dermal fibroblasts that is inhibited by an anti-IL-13 antibody. High numbers of CD8+ T cells and IL-13+ cells are found in the skin lesions of patients, particularly in the early inflammatory phase of the disease. Thus, IL-13-producing CD8+ T cells are directly involved in modulating dermal fibrosis in SSc.
We make an important mechanistic contribution to understanding the pathogenesis of dermal fibrosis in SSc by showing that CD8+ T cells homing to the skin early in the disease are associated with accumulation of IL-13 and may represent an important target for future therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC3535505  PMID: 23001877
6.  The K+ Channel KCa3.1 as a Novel Target for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis  
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e85244.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a common, progressive and invariably lethal interstitial lung disease with no effective therapy. We hypothesised that KCa3.1 K+ channel-dependent cell processes contribute to IPF pathophysiology.
KCa3.1 expression in primary human lung myofibroblasts was examined using RT-PCR, western blot, immunofluorescence and patch-clamp electrophysiology. The role of KCa3.1 channels in myofibroblast proliferation, wound healing, collagen secretion and contraction was examined using two specific and distinct KCa3.1 blockers (TRAM-34 and ICA-17043 [Senicapoc]).
Both healthy non fibrotic control and IPF-derived human lung myofibroblasts expressed KCa3.1 channel mRNA and protein. KCa3.1 ion currents were elicited more frequently and were larger in IPF-derived myofibroblasts compared to controls. KCa3.1 currents were increased in myofibroblasts by TGFβ1 and basic FGF. KCa3.1 was expressed strongly in IPF tissue. KCa3.1 pharmacological blockade attenuated human myofibroblast proliferation, wound healing, collagen secretion and contractility in vitro, and this was associated with inhibition of TGFβ1-dependent increases in intracellular free Ca2+.
KCa3.1 activity promotes pro-fibrotic human lung myofibroblast function. Blocking KCa3.1 may offer a novel approach to treating IPF with the potential for rapid translation to the clinic.
PMCID: PMC3877378  PMID: 24392001
7.  Interferon-gamma inducible protein-10 as a potential biomarker in localized scleroderma 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2013;15(6):R188.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the presence and levels of interferon-gamma inducible protein-10 (IP-10) in the plasma and skin of pediatric localized scleroderma (LS) patients compared to those of healthy pediatric controls and to determine if IP-10 levels correlate to clinical disease activity measures.
The presence of IP-10 in the plasma was analyzed using a Luminex panel in 69 pediatric patients with LS and compared to 71 healthy pediatric controls. Of these patients, five had available skin biopsy specimens with concurrent clinical and serological data during the active disease phase, which were used to analyze the presence and location of IP-10 in the skin by immunohistochemistry (IHC).
IP-10 levels were significantly elevated in the plasma of LS patients compared to that of healthy controls and correlated to clinical disease activity measures in LS. Immunohistochemistry staining of IP-10 was present in the dermal infiltrate of LS patients and was similar to that found in psoriasis skin specimens, the positive disease control.
Elevation of IP-10 levels in the plasma compared to those of healthy controls and the presence of IP-10 staining in the affected skin of LS patients indicates that IP-10 is a potential biomarker in LS. Furthermore, significant elevation of IP-10 in LS patients with active versus inactive disease and correlations between IP-10 levels and standardized disease outcome measures of activity in LS strongly suggest that IP-10 may be a biomarker for disease activity in LS.
PMCID: PMC3978708  PMID: 24499523
8.  The Effects of Age and the Expression of SPARC on Extracellular Matrix Production by Cardiac Fibroblasts in 3-D Cultures  
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79715.
Fibrillar collagen is the primary component of the cardiac interstitial extracellular matrix. This extracellular matrix undergoes dramatic changes from birth to adulthood and then into advanced age. As evidence, fibrillar collagen content was compared in sections from neonates, adult, and old hearts and was found to increase at each respective age. Cardiac fibroblasts are the principle cell type that produce and control fibrillar collagen content. To determine whether fibroblast production, processing, and deposition of collagen differed with age, primary cardiac fibroblasts from neonate, adult, and old mice were isolated and cultured in 3-dimensional (3D) fibrin gels. Fibroblasts from each age aligned in fibrin gels along points of tension and deposited extracellular matrix. By confocal microscopy, wild-type neonate fibroblasts appeared to deposit less collagen into fibrillar structures than fibroblasts from adults. However, by immunoblot analysis, differences in procollagen production and processing of collagen I were not detected in neonate versus adult fibroblasts. In contrast, fibroblasts from old mice demonstrated increased efficiency of procollagen processing coupled with decreased production of total collagen. SPARC is a collagen-binding protein previously shown to affect cardiac collagen deposition. Accordingly, in the absence of SPARC, less collagen appeared to be associated with fibroblasts of each age grown in fibrin gels. In addition, the increased efficiency of procollagen alpha 1(I) processing in old wild-type fibroblasts was not detected in old SPARC-null fibroblasts. Increased levels of fibronectin were detected in wild-type neonate fibroblasts over that of adult and old fibroblasts but not in SPARC-null neonate fibroblasts versus older ages. Immunostaining of SPARC overlapped with that of collagen I but not to that of fibronectin in 3D cultures. Hence, whereas increases in procollagen processing, influenced by SPARC expression, plausibly contribute to increased collagen deposition in old hearts, other cellular mechanisms likely affect differential collagen deposition by neonate fibroblasts.
PMCID: PMC3819255  PMID: 24223185
9.  Right Bundle Branch Block: A Predictor of Mortality in Early Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78808.
To evaluate the prognostic significance of baseline electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities in a multiethnic cohort of patients with early systemic sclerosis (SSc) and to determine the serological, clinical, and echocardiogram correlates of ECG findings.
SSc patients with disease duration of≤5 years were enrolled in the GENISOS (Genetics versus Environment in Scleroderma Outcome Study) cohort. At the first visit, a standard 12 lead ECG was obtained along with demographic information, clinical data, and autoantibodies. The results of echocardiograms were also recorded. All ECGs were interpreted by a cardiologist unaware of the patients' clinical data.
Of 265 SSc patients with average disease duration at enrollment of 2.5 years, 140 (52.8%) had abnormal ECG findings. These findings were not associated with SSc disease type or autoantibody profile but were associated with more severe heart and lung involvement. A total of 75 patients (28.3%) died over a follow up time of 9.9 years. Complete right bundle branch block (± left anterior hemiblock) on ECG, present in 7 (2.6%) patients, predicted a higher risk of mortality (HR: 5.3; 95% CI: 2.1 to 13.4; p<0.001). The predictive significance of right bundle branch block was independent of age at enrollment, gender, ethnicity and risk factors for coronary artery disease.
ECG abnormalities are common in patients with early SSc and are associated with the severity of lung and heart involvement. Right bundle branch block is an independent predictor of mortality, and should be considered a marker of disease severity in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3814983  PMID: 24205321
10.  HIV gp120 Induces Mucus Formation in Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells through CXCR4/α7-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors  
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77160.
Lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and lung infections are major causes of morbidity and mortality among HIV-infected patients even in the era of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Many of these diseases are strongly associated with smoking and smoking is more common among HIV-infected than uninfected people; however, HIV is an independent risk factor for chronic bronchitis, COPD, and asthma. The mechanism by which HIV promotes these diseases is unclear. Excessive airway mucus formation is a characteristic of these diseases and contributes to airway obstruction and lung infections. HIV gp120 plays a critical role in several HIV-related pathologies and we investigated whether HIV gp120 promoted airway mucus formation in normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells. We found that NHBE cells expressed the HIV-coreceptor CXCR4 but not CCR5 and produced mucus in response to CXCR4-tropic gp120. The gp120-induced mucus formation was blocked by the inhibitors of CXCR4, α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7-nAChR), and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)AR but not the antagonists of CCR5 and epithelial growth factor receptor (EGFR). These results identify two distinct pathways (α7-nAChR-GABAAR and EGFR) for airway mucus formation and demonstrate for the first time that HIV-gp120 induces and regulates mucus formation in the airway epithelial cells through the CXCR4-α7-nAChR-GABAAR pathway. Interestingly, lung sections from HIV ± ART and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) ± ART have significantly more mucus and gp120-immunoreactivity than control lung sections from humans and macaques, respectively. Thus, even after ART, lungs from HIV-infected patients contain significant amounts of gp120 and mucus that may contribute to the higher incidence of obstructive pulmonary diseases in this population.
PMCID: PMC3796539  PMID: 24155926
11.  Autoantibodies to Estrogen Receptor α in Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) as Pathogenetic Determinants and Markers of Progression 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74332.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a multisystem autoimmune disease of unknown etiology characterized by inflammation, autoantibody production, and fibrosis. It predominantly affects women, this suggesting that female sex hormones such as estrogens may play a role in disease pathogenesis. However, up to date, the role of estrogens in SSc has been scarcely explored. The activity of estrogens is mediated either by transcription activity of the intracellular estrogen receptors (ER), ERα and ERβ, or by membrane-associated ER. Since the presence of autoantibodies to ERα and their role as estrogen agonists interfering with T lymphocyte homeostasis were demonstrated in other autoimmune diseases, we wanted to ascertain whether anti-ERα antibodies were detectable in sera from patients with SSc. We detected anti-ERα antibody serum immunoreactivity in 42% of patients with SSc (30 out of 71 analyzed). Importantly, a significant association was found between anti-ERα antibody values and key clinical parameters of disease activity and severity. Fittingly, anti-ERα antibody levels were also significantly associated with alterations of immunological features of SSc patients, including increased T cell apoptotic susceptibility and changes in T regulatory cells (Treg) homeostasis. In particular, the percentage of activated Treg (CD4+CD45RA− FoxP3brightCD25bright) was significantly higher in anti-ERα antibody positive patients than in anti-ERα antibody negative patients. Taken together our data clearly indicate that anti-ERα antibodies, probably via the involvement of membrane-associated ER, can represent: i) promising markers for SSc progression but, also, ii) functional modulators of the SSc patients’ immune system.
PMCID: PMC3776852  PMID: 24058548
12.  Platelet-Derived Stromal Cell-Derived Factor-1 Is Required for the Transformation of Circulating Monocytes into Multipotential Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74246.
We previously described a primitive cell population derived from human circulating CD14+ monocytes, named monocyte-derived multipotential cells (MOMCs), which are capable of differentiating into mesenchymal and endothelial lineages. To generate MOMCs in vitro, monocytes are required to bind to fibronectin and be exposed to soluble factor(s) derived from circulating CD14− cells. The present study was conducted to identify factors that induce MOMC differentiation.
We cultured CD14+ monocytes on fibronectin in the presence or absence of platelets, CD14− peripheral blood mononuclear cells, platelet-conditioned medium, or candidate MOMC differentiation factors. The transformation of monocytes into MOMCs was assessed by the presence of spindle-shaped adherent cells, CD34 expression, and the potential to differentiate in vitro into mesenchymal and endothelial lineages.
The presence of platelets or platelet-conditioned medium was required to generate MOMCs from monocytes. A screening of candidate platelet-derived soluble factors identified stromal cell-derived factor (SDF)-1 as a requirement for generating MOMCs. Blocking an interaction between SDF-1 and its receptor CXCR4 inhibited MOMC generation, further confirming SDF-1′s critical role in this process. Finally, circulating MOMC precursors were found to reside in the CD14+CXCR4high cell population.
The interaction of SDF-1 with CXCR4 is essential for the transformation of circulating monocytes into MOMCs.
PMCID: PMC3774638  PMID: 24066125
13.  Amniotic Fluid Stem Cells Inhibit the Progression of Bleomycin-Induced Pulmonary Fibrosis via CCL2 Modulation in Bronchoalveolar Lavage 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71679.
The potential for amniotic fluid stem cell (AFSC) treatment to inhibit the progression of fibrotic lung injury has not been described. We have previously demonstrated that AFSC can attenuate both acute and chronic-fibrotic kidney injury through modification of the cytokine environment. Fibrotic lung injury, such as in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), is mediated through pro-fibrotic and pro-inflammatory cytokine activity. Thus, we hypothesized that AFSC treatment might inhibit the progression of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis through cytokine modulation. In particular, we aimed to investigate the effect of AFSC treatment on the modulation of the pro-fibrotic cytokine CCL2, which is increased in human IPF patients and is correlated with poor prognoses, advanced disease states and worse fibrotic outcomes. The impacts of intravenous murine AFSC given at acute (day 0) or chronic (day 14) intervention time-points after bleomycin injury were analyzed at either day 3 or day 28 post-injury. Murine AFSC treatment at either day 0 or day 14 post-bleomycin injury significantly inhibited collagen deposition and preserved pulmonary function. CCL2 expression increased in bleomycin-injured bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), but significantly decreased following AFSC treatment at either day 0 or at day 14. AFSC were observed to localize within fibrotic lesions in the lung, showing preferential targeting of AFSC to the area of fibrosis. We also observed that MMP-2 was transiently increased in BAL following AFSC treatment. Increased MMP-2 activity was further associated with cleavage of CCL2, rendering it a putative antagonist for CCL2/CCR2 signaling, which we surmise is a potential mechanism for CCL2 reduction in BAL following AFSC treatment. Based on this data, we concluded that AFSC have the potential to inhibit the development or progression of fibrosis in a bleomycin injury model during both acute and chronic remodeling events.
PMCID: PMC3742516  PMID: 23967234
14.  Rupatadine Protects against Pulmonary Fibrosis by Attenuating PAF-Mediated Senescence in Rodents 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68631.
A similar immune response is implicated in the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis and allergic disorders. We investigated the potential therapeutic efficacy and mechanism of rupatadine, a dual antagonist of histamine and platelet-activation factor (PAF), in bleomycin- (BLM-) and silica-induced pulmonary fibrosis. The indicated dosages of rupatadine were administered in rodents with bleomycin or silica-induced pulmonary fibrosis. The tissue injury, fibrosis, inflammatory cells and cytokines, and lung function were examined to evaluate the therapeutic efficacy of rupatadine. The anti-fibrosis effect of rupatadine was compared with an H1 or PAF receptor antagonist, and efforts were made to reveal rupatadine’s anti-fibrotic mechanism. Rupatadine promoted the resolution of pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis in a dose-dependent manner, as indicated by the reductions in inflammation score, collagen deposition and epithelial-mesenchymal transformation, and infiltration or expression of inflammatory cells or cytokines in the fibrotic lung tissue. Thus, rupatadine treatment improved the declined lung function and significantly decreased animal death. Moreover, rupatadine was able not only to attenuate silica-induced silicosis but also to produce a superior therapeutic efficacy compared to pirfenidone, histamine H1 antagonist loratadine, or PAF antagonist CV-3988. The anti-fibrotic action of rupatadine might relate to its attenuation of BLM- or PAF-induced premature senescence because rupatadine treatment protected against the in vivo and in vitro activation of the p53/p21-dependent senescence pathway. Our studies indicate that rupatadine promotes the resolution of pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis by attenuating the PAF-mediated senescence response. Rupatadine holds promise as a novel drug to treat the devastating disease of pulmonary fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3711902  PMID: 23869224
15.  Clinical Relevance of Plasma Prostaglandin F2α Metabolite Concentrations in Patients with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66017.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating lung disease of unknown etiology with few current treatment options. Recently, we determined an important role of prostaglandin F2α (PGF2α) in pulmonary fibrosis by using a bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis model and found an abundance of PGF2α in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of IPF patients. We investigated the role of PGF2α in human IPF by assessing plasma concentrations of 15-keto-dihydro PGF2α, a stable metabolite of PGF2α.
We measured plasma concentrations of 15-keto-dihydro PGF2α in 91 IPF patients and compared these values with those of controls (n = 25). We further investigated the relationships of plasma 15-keto-dihydro PGF2α concentrations with disease severity and mortality.
Plasma concentrations of 15-keto-dihydro PGF2α were significantly higher in IPF patients than controls (p<0.001). Plasma concentrations of this metabolite were significantly correlated with forced expiratory volume in 1 second (Rs [correlation coefficient] = −0.34, p = 0.004), forced vital capacity (Rs = −0.33, p = 0.005), diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (Rs = −0.36, p = 0.003), the composite physiologic index (Rs = 0.40, p = 0.001), 6-minute walk distance (Rs = −0.24, p = 0.04) and end-exercise oxygen saturation (Rs = −0.25, p = 0.04) when patients with emphysema were excluded. Multivariate analysis using stepwise Cox proportional hazards model showed that a higher composite physiologic index (relative risk = 1.049, p = 0.002) and plasma 15-keto-dihydro PGF2α concentrations (relative risk = 1.005, p = 0.002) were independently associated with an increased risk of mortality.
We demonstrated significant associations of plasma concentrations of PGF2α metabolites with disease severity and prognosis, which support a potential pathogenic role for PGF2α in human IPF.
PMCID: PMC3679025  PMID: 23776595
16.  HLA-B35 and dsRNA Induce Endothelin-1 via Activation of ATF4 in Human Microvascular Endothelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56123.
Endothelin 1 (ET-1) is a key regulator of vascular homeostasis. We have recently reported that the presence of Human antigen class I, HLA-B35, contributes to human dermal microvascular endothelial cell (HDMEC) dysfunction by upregulating ET-1 and proinflammatory genes. Likewise, a Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) ligand, Poly(I:C), was shown to induce ET-1 expression in HDMECs. The goal of this study was to determine the molecular mechanism of ET-1 induction by these two agonists. Because HLA-B35 expression correlated with induction of Binding Immunoglobulin Protein (BiP/GRP78) and several heat shock proteins, we first focused on ER stress and unfolded protein response (UPR) as possible mediators of this response. ER stress inducer, Thapsigargin (TG), HLA-B35, and Poly(I:C) induced ET-1 expression with similar potency in HDMECs. TG and HLA-B35 activated the PERK/eIF2α/ATF4 branch of the UPR and modestly increased the spliced variant of XBP1, but did not affect the ATF6 pathway. Poly(I:C) also activated eIF2α/ATF4 in a protein kinase R (PKR)-dependent manner. Depletion of ATF4 decreased basal expression levels of ET-1 mRNA and protein, and completely prevented upregulation of ET-1 by all three agonists. Additional experiments have demonstrated that the JNK and NF-κB pathways are also required for ET-1 upregulation by these agonists. Formation of the ATF4/c-JUN complex, but not the ATF4/NF-κB complex was increased in the agonist treated cells. The functional role of c-JUN in responses to HLA-B35 and Poly(I:C) was further confirmed in ET-1 promoter assays. This study identified ATF4 as a novel activator of the ET-1 gene. The ER stress/UPR and TLR3 pathways converge on eIF2α/ATF4 during activation of endothelial cells.
PMCID: PMC3575387  PMID: 23441162
17.  Estradiol promotes the development of a fibrotic phenotype and is increased in the serum of patients with systemic sclerosis 
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is more prevalent in women. Our goal is to determine the effects of 17β-estradiol (E2) on the development of fibrosis and to compare circulating levels of estrogens in SSc patients and healthy controls.
Using primary human dermal fibroblasts, we evaluated the effect of E2 on fibronectin (FN) expression with and without the estrogen receptor (ER) antagonist ICI 182,780, inhibitors of signaling, propyl-pyrazole-triol, an ERα specific ligand, and genistein, an ERβ selective ligand, to identify the signaling pathways mediating E2's effect. We confirmed the fibrotic effect of E2 in human skin using an ex vivo organ culture model. Lastly, we measured levels of E2 and estrone in serum samples from SSc patients with diffuse cutaneous involvement and healthy controls using mass spectrometry.
E2 increased expression of FN in dermal fibroblasts. ICI 182,780, inositol-1,4,5-triphosphate inhibitor, and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase inhibitor blocked the effects of E2 on FN. Propyl-pyrazole-triol, but not genistein, significantly increased FN expression. Ex vivo, E2 induced fibrosis of human skin. The effects of E2 were abrogated by ICI 182,780. Circulating levels of E2 and estrone were significantly increased in sera of patients with diffuse cutaneous SSc.
Our findings implicate estrogens in the fibrotic process and may explain the preponderance of SSc in women. ICI 182,780 or other ER signaling antagonists may be effective agents for the treatment of fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3672719  PMID: 23305385
18.  Localized Expression of Tenascin in Systemic Sclerosis-Associated Lung Fibrosis and its Regulation by IGF Binding Protein (IGFBP)-3 
Arthritis and Rheumatism  2012;64(1):272-280.
Tenascin (TN)-C is an extracellular matrix protein associated with injury and remodeling. Since Transforming Growth Factor (TGF)-β induces both TN-C and Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein (IGFBP)-3, we sought to determine the role of IGFBP-3 in mediating TGF-β’s effects on TN-C production and to assess the levels of TN-C in vivo in SSc-associated pulmonary fibrosis (PF).
Primary human lung fibroblasts were stimulated with TGF-β or IGFBP-3 in the presence or absence of specific siRNAs and chemical signaling cascade inhibitors. TN-C levels were examined in lung tissues of patients with Systemic Sclerosis (SSc)-associated pulmonary fibrosis using immunohistochemistry (IHC) and compared to those of normal donors. TN-C levels were quantified in serum from normal donors and patients with SSc with or without PF using ELISA.
IGFBP-3 mediated TGF-β induction of TN-C. Direct induction of TN-C by IGFBP-3 occurred in a p38K-dependent manner. TN-C levels were abundant in SSc lung tissues and localized to subepithelial layers of the distal airways. No TN-C was detectable around proximal airways. Patients with SSc-associated pulmonary fibrosis had significantly greater levels of circulating TN-C compared to patients without this complication. Longitudinal samples obtained from patients with SSc before and after the onset of PF showed increased levels post-PF.
IGFBP-3, which is overexpressed in fibrotic lungs, induces production of TN-C by subepithelial fibroblasts. The increased lung tissue levels of TN-C parallel levels detected in sera of patients with SSc and lung fibrosis, suggesting that TN-C may be a useful biomarker for SSc-PF.
PMCID: PMC3241902  PMID: 21898349
19.  Sexual Activity and Impairment in Women with Systemic Sclerosis Compared to Women from a General Population Sample 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e52129.
Reports of low sexual activity rates and high impairment rates among women with chronic diseases have not included comparisons to general population data. The objective of this study was to compare sexual activity and impairment rates of women with systemic sclerosis (SSc) to general population data and to identify domains of sexual function driving impairment in SSc.
Canadian women with SSc were compared to women from a UK population sample. Sexual activity and, among sexually active women, sexual impairment were evaluated with a 9-item version of the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI).
Among women with SSc (mean age = 57.0 years), 296 of 730 (41%) were sexually active, 181 (61%) of whom were sexually impaired, resulting in 115 of 730 (16%) who were sexually active without impairment. In the UK population sample (mean age = 55.4 years), 956 of 1,498 women (64%) were sexually active, 420 (44%) of whom were impaired, with 536 of 1,498 (36%) sexually active without impairment. Adjusting for age and marital status, women with SSc were significantly less likely to be sexually active (OR = 0.34, 95%CI = 0.28–0.42) and, among sexually active women, significantly more likely to be sexually impaired (OR = 1.88, 95%CI = 1.42–2.49) than general population women. Controlling for total FSFI scores, women with SSc had significantly worse lubrication and pain scores than general population women.
Sexual functioning is a problem for many women with scleroderma and is associated with pain and poor lubrication. Evidence-based interventions to support sexual activity and function in women with SSc are needed.
PMCID: PMC3522627  PMID: 23251692
20.  Antifibrotic Effects of Roscovitine in Normal and Scleroderma Fibroblasts 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48560.
Heightened production of collagen and other matrix proteins underlies the fibrotic phenotype of systemic sclerosis (SSc). Roscovitine is an inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases that promote cell cycling (CDK1, 2), neuronal development (CDK5) and control transcription (CDK7,9). In an in vivo glomerulonephritis model, roscovitine treatment decreased mesangial cell proliferation and matrix proteins [1]. We investigated whether roscovitine could regulate fibrotic protein production directly rather than through cell cycling. Our investigations revealed that roscovitine coordinately inhibited the expression of collagen, fibronectin, and connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) in normal and SSc fibroblasts. This effect occurred on a transcriptional basis and did not result from roscovitine-mediated cell cycle inhibition. Roscovitine-mediated suppression of matrix proteins could not be reversed by the exogenous profibrotic cytokines TGF-β or IL-6. To our knowledge, we are the first to report that roscovitine modulates matrix protein transcription. Roscovitine may thus be a viable treatment option for SSc and other fibrosing diseases.
PMCID: PMC3502367  PMID: 23185265
21.  Phosphorylation of ΔNp63α via a Novel TGFβ/ALK5 Signaling Mechanism Mediates the Anti-Clonogenic Effects of TGFβ 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50066.
Genetic analysis of TP63 implicates ΔNp63 isoforms in preservation of replicative capacity and cellular lifespan within adult stem cells. ΔNp63α is also an oncogene and survival factor that mediates therapeutic resistance in squamous carcinomas. These diverse activities are the result of genetic and functional interactions between TP63 and an array of morphogenic and morphostatic signals that govern tissue and tumor stasis, mitotic polarity, and cell fate; however the cellular signals that account for specific functions of TP63 are incompletely understood. To address this we sought to identify signaling pathways that regulate expression, stability or activity of ΔNp63α. An siRNA-based screen of the human kinome identified the Type 1 TGFβ receptor, ALK5, as the kinase required for phosphorylation of ΔNp63α at Serine 66/68 (S66/68). This activity is TGFβ-dependent and sensitive to either ALK5-directed siRNA or the ALK5 kinase inhibitor A83-01. Mechanistic studies support a model in which ALK5 is proteolytically cleaved at the internal juxtamembrane region resulting in the translocation of the C-terminal ALK5-intracellular kinase domain (ALK5IKD). In this study, we demonstrate that ALK5-mediated phosphorylation of ΔNp63α is required for the anti-clonogenic effects of TGFΒ and ectopic expression of ALK5IKD mimics these effects. Finally, we present evidence that ultraviolet irradiation-mediated phosphorylation of ΔNp63α is sensitive to ALK5 inhibitors. These findings identify a non-canonical TGFβ-signaling pathway that mediates the anti-clonogenic effects of TGFβ and the effects of cellular stress via ΔNp63α phosphorylation.
PMCID: PMC3500343  PMID: 23166821
22.  Nuclear β-Catenin Is Increased in Systemic Sclerosis Pulmonary Fibrosis and Promotes Lung Fibroblast Migration and Proliferation 
Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that results in loss of normal lung architecture, but the signaling events that drive tissue destruction are incompletely understood. Wnt/β-catenin signaling is important in normal lung development, but whether abnormal signaling occurs in lung fibrosis due to systemic sclerosis and the consequences of β-catenin signaling toward the fibrogenic phenotype remain poorly defined. In this study, we show nuclear β-catenin accumulation in fibroblastic foci from lungs of patients with systemic sclerosis–associated advanced pulmonary fibrosis. Forced activation of β-catenin signaling in three independently derived sources of normal human lung fibroblasts promotes proliferation and migratory activities but is not sufficient to activate classic markers of fibroblast activation, such as TGF-β, type 1 collagen, α-smooth muscle actin, and connective tissue growth factor. These findings indicate that activation of β-catenin signaling in pulmonary fibroblasts may be a common feature of lung fibrosis, contributing to fibroproliferative and migratory activities associated with the disease.
PMCID: PMC3262680  PMID: 21454805
Wnt/β-catenin signaling; scleroderma; fibrosis
23.  Syndecan-2 Is a Novel Target of Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein-3 and Is Over-Expressed in Fibrosis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43049.
Extracellular matrix deposition and tissue scarring characterize the process of fibrosis. Transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) and Insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of fibrosis in various tissues by inducing mesenchymal cell proliferation and extracellular matrix deposition. We identified Syndecan-2 (SDC2) as a gene induced by TGFβ in an IGFBP-3-dependent manner. TGFβ induction of SDC2 mRNA and protein required IGFBP-3. IGFBP-3 independently induced production of SDC2 in primary fibroblasts. Using an ex-vivo model of human skin in organ culture expressing IGFBP-3, we demonstrate that IGFBP-3 induces SDC2 ex vivo in human tissue. We also identified Mitogen-activated protein kinase-interacting kinase (Mknk2) as a gene induced by IGFBP-3. IGFBP-3 triggered Mknk2 phosphorylation resulting in its activation. Mknk2 independently induced SDC2 in human skin. Since IGFBP-3 is over-expressed in fibrotic tissues, we examined SDC2 levels in skin and lung tissues of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and lung tissues of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). SDC2 levels were increased in fibrotic dermal and lung tissues of patients with SSc and in lung tissues of patients with IPF. This is the first report describing elevated levels of SDC2 in fibrosis. Increased SDC2 expression is due, at least in part, to the activity of two pro-fibrotic factors, TGFβ and IGFBP-3.
PMCID: PMC3416749  PMID: 22900087
24.  Early growth response transcription factors: key mediators of fibrosis and novel targets for anti-fibrotic therapy 
Fibrosis is a deregulated and ultimately defective form of tissue repair that underlies a large number of chronic human diseases, as well as obesity and aging. The pathogenesis of fibrosis involves multiple cell types and extracellular signals, of which transforming growth factor- β (TGF-β) is pre-eminent. The prevalence of fibrosis is rising worldwide, and to date no agents has shown clinical efficacy in the attenuating or reversing the process. Recent studies implicate the immediate-early response transcription factor Egr-1 in the pathogenesis of fibrosis. Egr-1 couples acute changes in the cellular environment to sustained alterations in gene expression, and mediates a broad spectrum of biological responses to injury and stress. In contrast to other ligand-activated transcription factors such as NF-κB, c-jun and Smad2/3 that undergo post-translational modification such as phosphorylation and nuclear translocation, Egr-1 activity is regulated via its biosynthesis. Aberrant Egr-1 expression or activity is implicated in cancer, inflammation, atherosclerosis, and ischemic injury and recent studies now indicate an important role for Egr-1 in TGF-β-dependent profibrotic responses. Fibrosis in various animal models and human diseases such as scleroderma (SSc) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is accompanied by aberrant Egr-1 expression. Moreover Egr-1 appears to be required for physiologic and pathological connective tissue remodeling, and Egr-1-null mice are protected from fibrosis. As a novel profibrotic mediator, Egr-1 thus appears to be a promising potential target for the development of anti-fibrotic therapies.
PMCID: PMC3135176  PMID: 21511034
Egr-1; TGF-β; fibrosis; Scleroderma (systemic sclerosis); fibroblast
Our previous studies have demonstrated increased expression of insulin-like growth factor binding protein-5 (IGFBP-5) in fibrotic tissues and IGFBP-5 induction of extracellular matrix (ECM) components. The mechanism resulting in increased IGFBP-5 in the extracellular milieu of fibrotic fibroblasts is unknown. Since Caveolin-1 (Cav-1) has been implicated to play a role in membrane trafficking and signal transduction in tissue fibrosis, we examined the effect of Cav-1 on IGFBP-5 internalization, trafficking, and secretion. We demonstrated that IGFBP-5 localized to lipid rafts in human lung fibroblasts and bound Cav-1. Cav-1 was detected in the nucleus in IGFBP-5-expressing fibroblasts, within aggregates enriched with IGFBP-5, suggesting a coordinate trafficking of IGFBP-5 and Cav-1 from the plasma membrane to the nucleus. This trafficking was dependent on Cav-1 as fibroblasts from Cav-1 null mice had increased extracellular IGFBP-5, and as fibroblasts in which Cav-1 was silenced or lipid raft structure was disrupted through cholesterol depletion also had defective IGFBP-5 internalization. Restoration of Cav-1 function through administration of Cav-1 scaffolding peptide dramatically increased IGFBP-5 uptake. Finally, we demonstrated that IGFBP-5 in the ECM protects fibronectin from proteolytic degradation. Taken together, our findings identify a novel role for Cav-1 in the internalization and nuclear trafficking of IGFBP-5. Decreased Cav-1 expression in fibrotic diseases likely leads to increased deposition of IGFBP-5 in the ECM with subsequent reduction in ECM degradation, thus identifying a mechanism by which reduced Cav-1 and increased IGFBP-5 concomitantly contribute to the perpetuation of fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC2995014  PMID: 20345844
Caveolin-1; insulin-like growth factor binding protein-5; fibrosis; extracellular matrix

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