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1.  Chitinase 1 Is a Biomarker for and Therapeutic Target in Scleroderma-Associated Interstitial Lung Disease That Augments TGF-β1 Signaling 
Interstitial lung disease (ILD) with pulmonary fibrosis is an important manifestation in systemic sclerosis (SSc, scleroderma) where it portends a poor prognosis. However, biomarkers that predict the development and or severity of SSc-ILD have not been validated, and the pathogenetic mechanisms that engender this pulmonary response are poorly understood. In this study, we demonstrate in two different patient cohorts that the levels of chitotriosidase (Chit1) bioactivity and protein are significantly increased in the circulation and lungs of SSc patients compared with demographically matched controls. We also demonstrate that, compared with patients without lung involvement, patients with ILD show high levels of circulating Chit1 activity that correlate with disease severity. Murine modeling shows that in comparison with wild-type mice, bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis was significantly reduced in Chit1−/− mice and significantly enhanced in lungs from Chit1 overexpressing transgenic animals. In vitro studies also demonstrated that Chit1 interacts with TGF-β1 to augment fibroblast TGF-β receptors 1 and 2 expression and TGF-β–induced Smad and MAPK/ERK activation. These studies indicate that Chit1 is potential biomarker for ILD in SSc and a therapeutic target in SSc-associated lung fibrosis and demonstrate that Chit1 augments TGF-β1 effects by increasing receptor expression and canonical and noncanonical TGF-β1 signaling.
PMCID: PMC4336775  PMID: 22826322
2.  Serum Amyloid A Is a Marker for Pulmonary Involvement in Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(1):e0110820.
Inflammation in systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a prominent, but incompletely characterized feature in early stages of the disease. The goal of these studies was to determine the circulating levels, clinical correlates and biological effects of the acute phase protein serum amyloid A (SAA), a marker of inflammation, in patients with SSc. Circulating levels of SAA were determined by multiplex assays in serum from 129 SSc patients and 98 healthy controls. Correlations between SAA levels and clinical and laboratory features of disease were analyzed. The effects of SAA on human pulmonary fibroblasts were studied ex vivo. Elevated levels of SAA were found in 25% of SSc patients, with the highest levels in those with early-stage disease and diffuse cutaneous involvement. Significant negative correlations of SAA were found with forced vital capacity and diffusion capacity for carbon monoxide. Patients with elevated SAA had greater dyspnea and more frequent interstitial lung disease, and had worse scores on patient-reported outcome measures. Incubation with recombinant SAA induced dose-dependent stimulation of IL-6 and IL-8 in normal lung fibroblasts in culture. Serum levels of the inflammatory marker SAA are elevated in patients with early diffuse cutaneous SSc, and correlate with pulmonary involvement. In lung fibroblasts, SAA acts as a direct stimulus for increased cytokine production. These findings suggest that systemic inflammation in SSc may be linked to lung involvement and SAA could serve as a potential biomarker for this complication.
PMCID: PMC4321755  PMID: 25629975
3.  Experimentally-Derived Fibroblast Gene Signatures Identify Molecular Pathways Associated with Distinct Subsets of Systemic Sclerosis Patients in Three Independent Cohorts 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(1):e0114017.
Genome-wide expression profiling in systemic sclerosis (SSc) has identified four ‘intrinsic’ subsets of disease (fibroproliferative, inflammatory, limited, and normal-like), each of which shows deregulation of distinct signaling pathways; however, the full set of pathways contributing to this differential gene expression has not been fully elucidated. Here we examine experimentally derived gene expression signatures in dermal fibroblasts for thirteen different signaling pathways implicated in SSc pathogenesis. These data show distinct and overlapping sets of genes induced by each pathway, allowing for a better understanding of the molecular relationship between profibrotic and immune signaling networks. Pathway-specific gene signatures were analyzed across a compendium of microarray datasets consisting of skin biopsies from three independent cohorts representing 80 SSc patients, 4 morphea, and 26 controls. IFNα signaling showed a strong association with early disease, while TGFβ signaling spanned the fibroproliferative and inflammatory subsets, was associated with worse MRSS, and was higher in lesional than non-lesional skin. The fibroproliferative subset was most strongly associated with PDGF signaling, while the inflammatory subset demonstrated strong activation of innate immune pathways including TLR signaling upstream of NF-κB. The limited and normal-like subsets did not show associations with fibrotic and inflammatory mediators such as TGFβ and TNFα. The normal-like subset showed high expression of genes associated with lipid signaling, which was absent in the inflammatory and limited subsets. Together, these data suggest a model by which IFNα is involved in early disease pathology, and disease severity is associated with active TGFβ signaling.
PMCID: PMC4301872  PMID: 25607805
4.  Classification Criteria for Systemic Sclerosis: An ACR-EULAR Collaborative Initiative 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2013;65(11):2737-2747.
The 1980 classification criteria for systemic sclerosis (SSc) lack sensitivity in early SSc and limited cutaneous SSc. A joint ACR-EULAR committee was established to develop new classification criteria for SSc.
Using consensus methods, 23 candidate items were arranged in a multi-criteria additive point system with a threshold to classify cases as SSc. The classification system was reduced by clustering items, and simplifying weights. The system was tested by: a) determining specificity and sensitivity in SSc cases and controls with scleroderma-like disorders; b) validating against the combined view of a group of experts on a set of cases with or without SSc.
Skin thickening of the fingers extending proximal to the MCPs is sufficient to be classified as SSc, if that is not present, seven additive items apply with varying weights for each: skin thickening of the fingers, finger tip lesions, telangiectasia, abnormal nailfold capillaries, interstitial lung disease or pulmonary arterial hypertension, Raynaud's phenomenon, and SSc-related autoantibodies. Sensitivity and specificity in the validation sample were 0.91 and 0.92 for the new classification criteria and 0.75 and 0.72 for the 1980 ARA classification criteria. All selected cases were classified in accordance with consensus-based expert opinion. All cases classified as SSc by the 1980 ARA criteria were classified with the new criteria, and several additional cases were now considered to be SSc.
The ACR-EULAR classification criteria for SSc performed better than the 1980 ARA Criteria for SSc and should allow for more patients to be classified correctly as SSc.
PMCID: PMC3930146  PMID: 24122180
Systemic Sclerosis; Scleroderma; Classification Criteria; Conjoint Analysis; Multi Criteria Additive Point System; Validation; ACR-EULAR
5.  A synthetic Toll-like receptor 3 ligand mitigates profibrotic fibroblast responses by inducing autocrine interferon signaling 
Activation of Toll-like receptor-3 (TLR3) by exogenous microbial ligands or endogenous injury-associated ligands leads to production of type I interferon (IFN). Scleroderma patients with progressive skin fibrosis display an IFN-regulated gene signature, implicating TLR3 signaling in the disease. We now show that TLR3 expression was detected on foreskin, adult skin and lung fibroblasts, and TLR3 levels were significantly elevated in a subset of scleroderma skin biopsies. In explanted skin and lung fibroblasts, the synthetic TLR3 ligand polyinosinic: polycytidylic acid (Poly I:C), a double-stranded RNA analog, caused dose- and time-dependent stimulation of IFN-β production and generation of an IFN-response gene signature that was accompanied by substantial down-regulation of collagen and alpha-smooth muscle actin gene expression. Furthermore, Poly I:C abrogated transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)-induced fibrotic responses and blocked canonical Smad signaling via up-regulation of inhibitory Smad7. Surprisingly, the inhibitory effects of Poly I:C in fibroblasts were independent of TLR3, and were mediated by the cytosolic receptors retinoic acid-inducible gene 1 (RIG1) and melanoma differentiation associated gene 5 (MDA5), and involved signaling via the IFN receptor. Taken together, these results demonstrate that induction of a fibroblast IFN response gene signature triggered by double-stranded RNA is associated with potent TLR3-independent anti-fibrotic effects. The characteristic IFN response gene signature seen in scleroderma lesions might therefore signify a tissue-autonomous protective attempt to restrict fibroblast activation during injury.
PMCID: PMC3924580  PMID: 23956427
Poly I:C; TLR; TGF-β; fibrosis; scleroderma; fibroblast; Smad7
6.  Comparative Metabolic Systems Analysis of Pathogenic Burkholderia 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(2):210-226.
Burkholderia cenocepacia and Burkholderia multivorans are opportunistic drug-resistant pathogens that account for the majority of Burkholderia cepacia complex infections in cystic fibrosis patients and also infect other immunocompromised individuals. While they share similar genetic compositions, B. cenocepacia and B. multivorans exhibit important differences in pathogenesis. We have developed reconciled genome-scale metabolic network reconstructions of B. cenocepacia J2315 and B. multivorans ATCC 17616 in parallel (designated iPY1537 and iJB1411, respectively) to compare metabolic abilities and contextualize genetic differences between species. The reconstructions capture the metabolic functions of the two species and give insight into similarities and differences in their virulence and growth capabilities. The two reconstructions have 1,437 reactions in common, and iPY1537 and iJB1411 have 67 and 36 metabolic reactions unique to each, respectively. After curating the extensive reservoir of metabolic genes in Burkholderia, we identified 6 genes essential to growth that are unique to iPY1513 and 13 genes uniquely essential to iJB1411. The reconstructions were refined and validated by comparing in silico growth predictions to in vitro growth capabilities of B. cenocepacia J2315, B. cenocepacia K56-2, and B. multivorans ATCC 17616 on 104 carbon sources. Overall, we identified functional pathways that indicate B. cenocepacia can produce a wider array of virulence factors compared to B. multivorans, which supports the clinical observation that B. cenocepacia is more virulent than B. multivorans. The reconciled reconstructions provide a framework for generating and testing hypotheses on the metabolic and virulence capabilities of these two related emerging pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3911241  PMID: 24163337
7.  A synthetic PPAR-γ agonist triterpenoid ameliorates experimental fibrosis: PPAR-γ-independent suppression of fibrotic responses 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2013;73(2):446-454.
Persistent fibroblast activation initiated by transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) is a fundamental event in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc), and its pharmacological inhibition represents a potential therapeutic strategy. The nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPAR-γ) exerts potent fibrotic activities. The synthetic triterpenoid oleanane 2-cyano-3,12-dioxoolean-1,9-dien-28-oic (CDDO) is a PPAR-γ agonist with potential effects on TGF-β signaling and dermal fibrosis.
To examine the modulation of fibrogenesis by CDDO in explanted fibroblasts, skin organ cultures and murine models of scleroderma.
Material and methods
The effects of CDDO on experimental fibrosis induced by bleomycin injection or by overexpression of type I constitutively active TGF-β receptor was evaluated. Modulation of fibrotic gene expression was examined in human skin organ cultures. To delineate the mechanisms underlying the anti-fibrotic effects of CDDO, explanted skin fibroblasts cultured in 2-dimensional monolayers or in 3-dimensional full-thickness human skin equivelants were studied.
CDDO significantly ameliorated dermal fibrosis in two complementary mouse models of scleroderma, as well as in human skin organ cultures and in 3-dimensional human skin equivalents. In 2-dimensional monolayer cultures, CDDO abrogated fibrogenic responses in explanted normal human skin fibroblasts. These CDDO effects occurred via disruption of Smad-dependent transcription and were associated with inhibition of Akt activation. In scleroderma fibroblasts, CDDO attenuated collagen synthesis. Remarkably, the anti-fibrotic effects of CDDO were independent of PPAR-γ.
The PPAR-γ agonist triterpenoid CDDO attenuates fibrogenesis by antagonistically targeting canonical TGF-β/Smad and Akt signaling in a PPAR-γ-independent manner. These findings identify this synthetic triterpenoid as a potential new therapy for the control of fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC4028127  PMID: 23515440
CDDO; triterpenoid; fibrosis; PPAR-γ; TGF-β; fibroblast; murine scleroderma
8.  Smad-independent transforming growth factor-ß signaling in fibroblasts via c-Abl and Egr-1: selective modulation by imatinib mesylate 
Oncogene  2009;28(10):1285-1297.
The non-receptor protein tyrosine kinase c-Abl regulates cell proliferation and survival. Recent studies provide evidence that implicate c-Abl as a mediator for fibrotic responses induced by Transforming growth factor-ß (TGF-ß), but the precise mechanisms underlying this novel oncogene function are unknown. Here we report that when expressed in normal fibroblasts, a constitutively active mutant of Abl mutant that causes chronic myelogenous leukemia stimulated the expression and transcriptional activity of the early growth response factor Egr-1. Mouse embryonic fibroblasts lacking c-Abl were resistant to TGF-ß. Sensitivity of these cells to TGF-ß could be rescued by wildtype c-Abl, but not by a kinase-deficient mutant form of c-Abl. Furthermore, Abl kinase activity was necessary for the induction of Egr-1 by TGF-ß in normal fibroblasts, and Egr-1 was required for stimulation of collagen by Bcr-Abl. Lesional skin fibroblasts in mice with bleomycin-induced scleroderma displayed evidence of c-Abl activation in situ, and elevated phospho-c-Abl correlated with increased local expression of Egr-1. Collectively, these results position Egr-1 downstream of c-Abl in the fibrotic response, delineate a novel Egr-1-dependent intracellular signaling mechanism that underlies the involvement of c-Abl in TGF-ß responses, and identify Egr-1 as a target of inhibition by imatinib. Furthermore, the findings demonstrate in situ activation of c-Abl paralleling the up-regulation tissue expression of Egr-1 in fibrosis. Pharmacological targeting of c-Abl and its downstream effector pathways may therefore represent a novel therapeutic approach to blocking TGF-ß-dependent fibrotic processes.
PMCID: PMC4006376  PMID: 19151753
c-Abl; imatinib mesylate; TGF-ß; Egr-1; fibrosis; fibroblast; Type I collagen
9.  Fibrosis in systemic sclerosis: Emerging concepts and implications for targeted therapy 
Autoimmunity reviews  2010;10(5):267-275.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a complex and incompletely understood disease associated with fibrosis in multiple organs. Recent findings identify transforming growth factor-ß (TGF-ß), Wnt ligands, toll-like receptor-mediated signaling, hypoxia, type I interferon, type 2 immune responses and mechanical stress as extracellular cues that modulate fibroblast function and differentiation, and as potential targets for therapy. Moreover, fibrillin-1 has a major role in storing and regulating the bioavailability of TGF-ß and other cytokines, and fibrillin-1 mutations are implicated in a congenital form of scleroderma called stiff skin syndrome. Fibrosis is due not only to the activation of tissue-resident fibroblasts and their transdifferentiation into myofibroblasts, but also the differentiation of bone marrow-derived fibrocytes, and transition of endothelial and epithelial cells, pericytes and adipocytes into activated mesenchymal cells. These responses are modulated by signaling mediators and microRNAs that amplify or inhibit TGF-ß and Wnt signaling. Gain-of-function and loss-of-function abnormalities of these mediators may account for the characteristic activated phenotype of SSc fibroblasts. The nuclear orphan receptor PPAR-γ plays a particularly important role in limiting the duration and intensity of fibroblast activation and differentiation, and impaired PPAR-γ expression or function in SSc may underlie the uncontrolled progression of fibrosis.
Identifying the perturbations in signaling pathways, mediators and differentiation programs that are responsible for SSc tissue damage allows their selective targeting. This in turn opens the door for therapies utilizing novel compounds, or drug repurposing by innovative uses of already-approved drugs. In view of the heterogeneous clinical presentation and unpredictable course of SSc, as well as its complex pathogenesis, only robust clinical trials incorporating the judicious application of biomarkers will be able to clarify the clinical utility of these innovative approaches.
PMCID: PMC3998379  PMID: 20863909
Fibrosis; Systemic sclerosis; Fibroblast; TGF-ß; Wnt; Collagen
10.  Egr-1: new conductor for the tissue repair orchestra directs harmony (regeneration) or cacophony (fibrosis) 
The Journal of pathology  2012;229(2):286-297.
Fibroblasts and myofibroblasts are the key effector cells executing physiologic tissue repair leading to regeneration on one hand, and pathological fibrogenesis leading to chronic fibrosing conditions on the other. Recent studies identify the multifunctional transcription factor Early Growth Response-1(Egr-1) as an important mediator of fibroblast activation triggered by diverse stimuli. Egr-1 has potent stimulatory effects on fibrotic gene expression, and aberrant Egr-1 expression or function is associated with animal models of fibrosis and human fibrotic disorders including emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension and systemic sclerosis. Pharmacological suppression or genetic targeting of Egr-1 blocks fibrotic responses in vitro and ameliorates experimental fibrosis in the skin and lung. In contrast, Egr-1 appear to acts as a negative regulator of hepatic fibrosis in mouse models, suggesting a context-dependent role in fibrosis. The Egr-1-binding protein Nab2 is an endogenous inhibitor of Egr-1-mediated signaling, and abrogates the stimulation of fibrotic responses induced by transforming growth factor-ß (TGF-ß). Moreover, mice deficient in Nab2 show excessive collagen accumulation in the skin. These observations highlight a previously unsuspected fundamental physiologic function for the Egr-1/Nab2 signaling axis in regulating fibrogenesis, and suggest that Egr-1 may be a potential novel therapeutic target in human diseases complicated by fibrosis. This review summarizes recent advances in understanding the regulation and complex functional role of Egr-1 and its related proteins and inhibitors in pathological fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3965177  PMID: 23132749
Egr-1; Nab2; TGF-ß; fibrosis; scleroderma; fibroblast; myofibroblast; p300; c-Abl
11.  Connective tissue growth factor/CCN2-null mouse embryonic fibroblasts retain intact transforming growth factor-beta responsiveness 
Experimental cell research  2007;314(5):1094-1104.
The matricellular protein connective tissue growth factor (CCN2) has been implicated in pathological fibrosis, but its physiologic role remains elusive. In vitro, transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) induces CCN2 expression in mesenchymal cells. Because CCN2 can enhance pro-fibrotic responses elicited by TGF-β, it has been proposed that CCN2 functions as an essential downstream signaling mediator for TGF-β. To explore this notion, we characterized TGF-β-induced activation of fibroblasts from CCN2-null (CCN2−/−) mouse embryos.
The regulation of CCN2 expression was examined in vivo in a model of fibrosis induced by bleomycin. Cellular TGF-β signal transduction and regulation of collagen gene expression were examined in CCN2−/− MEFs by immunohistochemistry, Northern, Western and RT-PCR analysis, immunocytochemistry and transient transfection assays.
Bleomycin-induced skin fibrosis in the mouse was associated with substantial CCN2 up-regulation in lesional fibroblasts. Whereas in vitro proliferation rate of CCN2−/− MEFs was markedly reduced compared to wild type MEFs, TGF-β-induced activation of the Smad pathways, including Smad2 phosphorylation, Smad2/3 and Smad4 nuclear accumulation and Smad-dependent transcriptional responses, were unaffected by loss of CCN2. The stimulation of COL1A2 and fibronectin mRNA expression and promoter activity, and of corresponding protein levels, showed comparable time and dose-response in wild type and CCN2−/− MEFs, whereas stimulation of alpha-smooth muscle actin and myofibroblast transdifferentiation showed subtle impairment in MEFs lacking CCN2.
Whereas endogenous CCN2 plays a role in regulation of proliferation and TGF-β-induced myofibroblast transdifferentation, it appears to be dispensable for Smad-dependent stimulation of collagen and extracellular matrix synthesis in murine embryonic fibroblasts.
PMCID: PMC3963386  PMID: 18201696
TGF-β; CTGF/CCN2; fibrosis; fibroblast; Type I collagen
12.  Transforming growth factor-ß as a therapeutic target in systemic sclerosis 
Nature reviews. Rheumatology  2009;5(4):200-206.
Transforming growth factor-ß (TGF-ß) is a pleiotropic cytokine with vital homeostatic functions. Aberrant TGF-ß expression or activity is implicated in the pathogenesis of fibrosis in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc), thus TGF-ß represents a molecular therapeutic target. Multiple strategies are available for blocking the TGF-ß pathway. A monoclonal antibody targeting TGF-ß has been evaluated in a small clinical trial for early SSc with disappointing results. Antibodies to the αvß6 integrin that prevent latent TGF-ß activation, however, show promise in preclinical studies. Small molecules inhibiting TGF-ß receptor activity are effective in animal models of fibrosis. Imatinib mesylate and related tyrosine kinase inhibitors that are currently used in cancer therapy also block TGF-ß pathways and abrogate fibrotic responses. Furthermore, some commonly used drugs have shown unanticipated anti-TGF-ß activity and, therefore, could have anti-fibrotic effects. Since TGF-ß has important physiologic functions for tissue homeostasis, blocking TGF-ß activity might lead to spontaneous immune activation, epithelial hyperplasia and impaired wound healing. Loss of immune tolerance is a potential concern in an autoimmune disease such as SSc. Novel insights from microarray-based gene expression analysis and studies of genetic polymorphisms in TGF-ß signaling could aid in identifying those patients who are most likely to respond to anti-TGF-ß treatment. Anti-TGF-ß interventions promise to have a major impact on the treatment of SSc. Significant concerns regarding efficacy, safety, questions regarding appropriate dosing and timing of therapy, identification of responders, and of biomarkers of safety and efficacy are critical challenges ahead.
PMCID: PMC3959159  PMID: 19337284
13.  Understanding fibrosis in systemic sclerosis: shifting paradigms, emerging opportunities 
Nature reviews. Rheumatology  2011;8(1):42-54.
Fibrosis in multiple organs is a prominent pathological finding and distinguishing hallmark of systemic sclerosis (SSc). Findings during the past 5 years have contributed to a more complete understanding of the complex cellular and molecular underpinning of fibrosis in SSc. Fibroblasts, the principal effector cells, are activated in the profibrotic cellular milieu by cytokines and growth factors, developmental pathways, endothelin 1 and thrombin. Innate immune signaling via Toll-like receptors, matrix-generated biomechanical stress signaling via integrins, hypoxia and oxidative stress seem to be implicated in perpetuating the process. Beyond chronic fibroblast activation, fibrosis represents a failure to terminate tissue repair, coupled with an expanded population of mesenchymal cells originating from bone marrow and transdifferentiation of epithelial cells, endothelial cells and pericytes. In addition, studies have identified intrinsic alterations in SSc fibroblasts resulting from epigenetic changes, as well as altered microRNA expression that might underlie the cell-autonomous, persistent activation phenotype of these cells. Precise characterization of the deregulated extracellular and intracellular signaling pathways, mediators and cellular differentiation programs that contribute to fibrosis in SSc will facilitate the development of selective, targeted therapeutic strategies. Effective antifibrotic therapy will ultimately involve novel compounds and repurposing of drugs that are already approved for other indications.
PMCID: PMC3954787  PMID: 22025123
14.  Molecular Signatures in Skin Associated with Clinical Improvement During Mycophenolate Treatment in Systemic Sclerosis 
Heterogeneity in systemic sclerosis/SSc confounds clinical trials. We previously identified ‘intrinsic’ gene expression subsets by analysis of SSc skin. Here we test the hypotheses that skin gene expression signatures including intrinsic subset are associated with skin score/MRSS improvement during mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) treatment. Gene expression and intrinsic subset assignment were measured in 12 SSc patients’ biopsies and ten controls at baseline, and from serial biopsies of one cyclophosphamide-treated patient, and nine MMF-treated patients. Gene expression changes during treatment were determined using paired t-tests corrected for multiple hypothesis testing. MRSS improved in four of seven MMF-treated patients classified as the inflammatory intrinsic subset. Three patients without MRSS improvement were classified as normal-like or fibroproliferative intrinsic subsets. 321 genes (FDR <5%) were differentially expressed at baseline between patients with and without MRSS improvement during treatment. Expression of 571 genes (FDR <10%) changed between pre- and post-MMF treatment biopsies for patients demonstrating MRSS improvement. Gene expression changes in skin are only seen in patients with MRSS improvement. Baseline gene expression in skin, including intrinsic subset assignment, may identify SSc patients whose MRSS will improve during MMF treatment, suggesting that gene expression in skin may allow targeted treatment in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3714324  PMID: 23677167
15.  A TGFβ-Responsive Gene Signature Is Associated with a Subset of Diffuse Scleroderma with Increased Disease Severity 
The Journal of investigative dermatology  2009;130(3):10.1038/jid.2009.318.
Systemic sclerosis is a complex disease with widespread skin fibrosis and variable visceral organ involvement. Since transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) has been implicated in driving fibrosis in systemic sclerosis, a mechanism-derived gene expression signature was used to assay TGFβ-responsive gene expression in the skin of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc). Primary dermal fibroblasts from patients with diffuse SSc (dSSc) and healthy controls were treated with TGFβ, and the genome-wide gene expression was measured on DNA microarrays over a time course of 24 hours. Eight hundred and ninety-four probes representing 674 uniquely annotated genes were identified as TGFβ responsive. Expression of the TGFβ-responsive signature was examined in skin biopsies from 17 dSSc, seven limited SSc (lSSc), three morphea patients, and six healthy controls. The TGFβ-responsive signature was expressed in 10 out of 17 dSSc skin biopsies, but was not found in lSSc, morphea, or healthy control biopsies. Expression of dSSC the TGFβ-responsive signature stratifies patients into two major groups, one of which corresponds to the “diffuse-proliferation” intrinsic subset that showed higher modified Rodnan skin score and a higher likelihood of scleroderma lung disease. The TGFβ-responsive signature is found in only a subset of dSSc patients who could be targeted by specific therapies.
PMCID: PMC3867816  PMID: 19812599
16.  Imatinib Mesylate Causes Genome-wide Transcriptional Changes in Systemic Sclerosis Fibroblasts in vitro 
Clinical and experimental rheumatology  2012;30(2 0 71):S86-S96.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a heterogeneous multifactorial disease dominated by progressive skin and internal organ fibrosis that is driven in part by Transforming Growth Factor-beta (TGF-β). An important downstream target of TGF-β is the Abelson (c-Abl) tyrosine kinase, and its inhibition by imatinib mesylate (Gleevec)attenuates fibrosis in mice. Here we examined the effect of c-Abl activation and blockade in explanted healthy control and SSc fibroblasts.
Skin biopsies and explanted fibroblasts from healthy subjects and patients with SSc were studied. Changes in genome-wide expression patterns in imatinib-treated control and SSc fibroblasts were analyzed by DNA microarray.
Treatment of control fibroblasts with TGF-β resulted in activation of c-Abl and stimulation of fibrotic gene expression that was prevented by imatinib. Moreover, imatinib reduced basal collagen gene expression in SSc but not control fibroblasts. No significant differences in tissue levels of c-Abl and phospho-c-Abl were detected between SSc and control skin biopsies. In vitroimatinib induced dramatic changes in the expression of genes involved in fibrosis, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and lipid and cholesterol metabolism. Remarkably, of the 587-imatinib-responsive genes, 91% showed significant change in SSc fibroblasts, but only 12% in control fibroblasts.
c-Abl plays a key role in fibrotic responses. Imatinib treatment results in dramatic changes in gene expression in SSc fibroblasts but has only modest effects in control fibroblasts. These data provide novel insights into the mechanisms underlying the antifibrotic effect of imatinib in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3860597  PMID: 22691216
17.  Post-epidemic eosinophilia myalgia syndrome associated with L-Tryptophan 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2011;63(11):10.1002/art.30514.
Eosinophilia–myalgia syndrome (EMS) is characterized by subacute onset of myalgias and peripheral eosinophilia, followed by chronic neuropathy and skin induration. An epidemic of EMS in 1989 was linked to L-tryptophan consumption originating from a single source. Following the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on the sale of L-tryptophan, the incidence of EMS declined rapidly. Moreover, no new cases have been published since the FDA ban was lifted in 2005. We report the clinical, histopathological and immunogenetic features of a new case of L-tryptophan-associated EMS along with evidence of activated transforming growth factor-ß and interleukin-4 signaling in the lesional skin.
PMCID: PMC3848710  PMID: 21702023
18.  p300 is elevated in systemic sclerosis and its expression is positively regulated by TGF-β: epigenetic feed-forward amplification of fibrosis 
Fibrosis, the hallmark of systemic sclerosis (SSc), is characterized by persistent fibroblast activation triggered by transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β). Since the acetyltransferase p300 plays a key role in fibrosis and its availability governs the intensity of fibrotic responses, we investigated p300 expression in SSc and the molecular basis of its regulation. We found that expression of p300 was markedly elevated in SSc skin biopsies, and was induced by TGF-β in explanted normal skin fibroblasts. Stimulation of p300 by TGF-β was independent of Smads, and involved the early-immediate transcription factor Egr-1, a key regulator of profibrotic TGF-β signaling. Indeed, Egr-1 was both sufficient and necessary for p300 regulation in vitro and in vivo. Increased p300 accumulation in TGF-β-treated fibroblasts was associated with histone hyperacetylation, whereas p300 depletion, or selective pharmacological blockade of its acetyltransferase activity, attenuated TGF-β-induced responses. Moreover, TGF-β enhanced both p300 recruitment and in vivo histone H4 acetylation at the COL1A2 locus. These findings implicate p300-mediated histone acetylation as a fundamental epigenetic mechanism in fibrogenesis, and place Egr-1 upstream in TGF-β-driven stimulation of p300 gene expression. The results establish a firm link between fibrosis with aberrant p300 expression and epigenetic activity to our knowledge previously unreported. Targeted disruption of p300-mediated histone acetylation might therefore represent a viable anti-fibrotic strategy.
PMCID: PMC3626729  PMID: 23303459
Acetyltransferase p300; TGF-β; fibroblast; systemic sclerosis; fibrosis; EGR-1; epigenetics
19.  Draft Genome Sequences of Burkholderia cenocepacia ET12 Lineage Strains K56-2 and BC7 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(5):e00841-13.
The Burkholderia cepacia complex (BCC) is a group of closely related bacteria that are responsible for respiratory infections in immunocompromised humans, most notably those with cystic fibrosis (CF). We report the genome sequences for Burkholderia cenocepacia ET12 lineage CF isolates K56-2 and BC7.
PMCID: PMC3798455  PMID: 24136849
20.  Distinct human antibody response to the biological warfare agent Burkholderia mallei 
Virulence  2012;3(6):510-514.
The genetic similarity between Burkholderia mallei (glanders) and Burkholderia pseudomallei (melioidosis) had led to the general assumption that pathogenesis of each bacterium would be similar. In 2000, the first human case of glanders in North America since 1945 was reported in a microbiology laboratory worker. Leveraging the availability of pre-exposure sera for this individual and employing the same well-characterized protein array platform that has been previously used to study a large cohort of melioidosis patients in southeast Asia, we describe the antibody response in a human with glanders. Analysis of 156 peptides present on the array revealed antibodies against 17 peptides with a > 2-fold increase in this infection. Unexpectedly, when the glanders data were compared with a previous data set from B. pseudomallei infections, there were only two highly increased antibodies shared between these two infections. These findings have implications in the diagnosis and treatment of B. mallei and B. pseudomallei infections.
PMCID: PMC3524150  PMID: 23076276
Burkholderia mallei; Burkholderia pseudomallei; glanders; melioidosis; protein microarray
21.  The MUC5B Variant Is Associated with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis but Not with Systemic Sclerosis Interstitial Lung Disease in the European Caucasian Population 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e70621.
A polymorphism on the MUC5B promoter (rs35705950) has been associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) but not with systemic sclerosis (SSc) with interstitial lung disease (ILD). We genotyped the MUC5B promoter in the first 142 patients of the French national prospective cohort of IPF, in 981 French patients with SSc (346 ILD), 598 Italian patients with SSc (207 ILD), 1383 French controls and 494 Italian controls. A meta-analysis was performed including all American data available. The T risk allele was present in 41.9% of the IPF patients, 10.8% of the controls (P = 2×10–44), OR 6.3 [4.6–8.7] for heterozygous patients and OR 21.7 [10.4–45.3] for homozygous patients. Prevalence of the T allele was not modified according to age, gender, smoking in IPF patients. However, none of the black patients with IPF presented the T allele. The prevalence of the T risk allele was similar between French (10%) and Italian (12%) cohorts of SSc whatever the presence of an ILD (11.1% and 13.5%, respectively). Meta-analysis confirmed the similarity between French, Italian and American cohorts of IPF or SSc-ILD. This study confirms 1) an association between the T allele risk and IPF, 2) an absence of association with SSc-ILD, suggesting different pathophysiology.
PMCID: PMC3734256  PMID: 23940607
22.  Wnt/β-catenin signaling is hyperactivated in systemic sclerosis and induces Smad-dependent fibrotic responses in mesenchymal cells 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(8):2734-2745.
Fibrosis in human diseases and animal models is associated with aberrant Wnt/β-catenin pathway activation. The regulation, activity, mechanism of action and significance of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the context of systemic sclerosis (SSc) has not been characterized.
Expression of Wnt signaling pathway components in SSc skin biopsies was analyzed. The regulation of profibrotic responses by canonical Wnt/ß-catenin was examined in explanted human mesenchymal cells. Fibrotic responses were studied by proliferation, migration and gel contraction assays. The fate specification of subcutaneous preadipocytes by canonical Wnt signaling was evaluated.
Analysis of published genome-wide expression datasets revealed elevated expression of the Wnt receptor Fzd2 and the Wnt target Lef1, and decreased expression of Wnt antagonists Dkk2 and Wif1 in skin biopsies from subsets of dcSSc patients. Immunohistochemistry showed increased nuclear β-catenin expression in these biopsies. In vitro, Wnt3a induced ß-catenin activation, stimulated fibroblast proliferation, migration, gel contraction and myofibroblast differentiation, and profibrotic gene expression. Genetic and pharmacological approaches were used to demonstrate that these profibrotic responses involved autocrine TGF-β signaling via Smads. In contrast, in explanted subcutaneous preadipocytes Wnt3a repressed adipogenesis and promoted myofibroblast differentiation.
Canonical Wnt signaling was hyperactivated in SSc skin biopsies, and in explanted mesenchymal cells Wnt3a stimulated fibrogenic responses while suppressing adipogenesis. Together, these results indicate that Wnts have potent profibrotic effects and canonical Wnt signaling plays an important role in the pathogenesis of fibrosis and lipoatrophy in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3553791  PMID: 22328118
23.  Draft Genome Sequence Determination for Cystic Fibrosis and Chronic Granulomatous Disease Burkholderia multivorans Isolates 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(22):6356-6357.
Burkholderia multivorans is a Gram-negative bacterium and a member of the Burkholderia cepacia complex, which is frequently associated with respiratory infections in people with cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic granulomatous disease (CGD). We are reporting the genome sequences of 4 B. multivorans strains, 2 from CF patients and 2 from CGD patients.
PMCID: PMC3486389  PMID: 23105085
24.  Proteasomal inhibition after injury prevents fibrosis by modulating TGF-β1 signalling 
Thorax  2011;67(2):139-146.
The development of organ fibrosis after injury requires activation of transforming growth factor β1 which regulates the transcription of profibrotic genes. The systemic administration of a proteasomal inhibitor has been reported to prevent the development of fibrosis in the liver, kidney and bone marrow. It is hypothesised that proteasomal inhibition would prevent lung and skin fibrosis after injury by inhibiting TGF-β1-mediated transcription.
Bortezomib, a small molecule proteasome inhibitor in widespread clinical use, was administered to mice beginning 7 days after the intratracheal or intradermal administration of bleomycin and lung and skin fibrosis was measured after 21 or 40 days, respectively. To examine the mechanism of this protection, bortezomib was administered to primary normal lung fibroblasts and primary lung and skin fibroblasts obtained from patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and scleroderma, respectively.
Bortezomib promoted normal repair and prevented lung and skin fibrosis when administered beginning 7 days after the initiation of bleomycin. In primary human lung fibroblasts from normal individuals and patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and in skin fibroblasts from a patient with scleroderma, bortezomib inhibited TGF-β1-mediated target gene expression by inhibiting transcription induced by activated Smads. An increase in the abundance and activity of the nuclear hormone receptor PPARγ, a repressor of Smad-mediated transcription, contributed to this response.
Proteasomal inhibition prevents lung and skin fibrosis after injury in part by increasing the abundance and activity of PPARγ. Proteasomal inhibition may offer a novel therapeutic alternative in patients with dysregulated tissue repair and fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3595535  PMID: 21921091

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