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1.  Immunomodulatory effects of transforming growth factor-β in the liver 
Members of the transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) family are potent regulatory cytokines that affect multiple cell types of the immune system mediating pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory responses. In the liver, TGF-β is produced by a multitude of non-parenchymal liver cells including hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs), Kupffer cells (KCs), and dendritic cells (DCs) as well as natural killer (NK) T cells among other hepatic lymphocytes. The effect of TGF-β on other cells is highly versatile. In concert with other soluble factors, it controls the maturation, differentiation and activity of various T cell subsets that either prevent or actuate infections, graft-versus-host reactions, immune diseases, and cancer formation. During the last decades, it became evident that some TGFB1 polymorphisms are associated with the pathogenesis of hepatic disease and that plasma TGF-β is a suitable biomarker to detect liver lesions. Moreover, since TGF-β has capacity to influence the quantity and quality of T cell subsets as well as their activity, it is obvious that a well-balanced TGF-β activity is essential for liver homeostasis. In the present review, we highlight some pivotal functions of TGF-β in hepatic immunobiology. We discuss its regulatory function on adaptive immunity, the impact on differentiation of various T cell subsets, its crosstalk with Toll like receptor signaling, and its contribution to functional impairment of the liver.
PMCID: PMC4273109  PMID: 25568862
T cells; signaling; inflammation; Toll-like receptors (TLRs); hepatitis
2.  Liver immunology: new perspectives 
PMCID: PMC4273115  PMID: 25568857
3.  Cellular and molecular functions of hepatic stellate cells in inflammatory responses and liver immunology 
The liver is a central immunological organ. Liver resident macrophages, Kupffer cells (KC), but also sinusoidal endothelial cells, dendritic cells (DC) and other immune cells are involved in balancing immunity and tolerance against pathogens, commensals or food antigens. Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) have been primarily characterized as the main effector cells in liver fibrosis, due to their capacity to transdifferentiate into collagen-producing myofibroblasts (MFB). More recent studies elucidated the fundamental role of HSC in liver immunology. HSC are not only the major storage site for dietary vitamin A (Vit A) (retinol, retinoic acid), which is essential for proper function of the immune system. This pericyte further represents a versatile source of many soluble immunological active factors including cytokines [e.g., interleukin 17 (IL-17)] and chemokines [C-C motif chemokine (ligand) 2 (CCL2)], may act as an antigen presenting cell (APC), and has autophagy activity. Additionally, it responds to many immunological triggers via toll-like receptors (TLR) (e.g., TLR4, TLR9) and transduces signals through pathways and mediators traditionally found in immune cells, including the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway or inflammasome activation. Overall, HSC promote rather immune-suppressive responses in homeostasis, like induction of regulatory T cells (Treg), T cell apoptosis (via B7-H1, PDL-1) or inhibition of cytotoxic CD8 T cells. In conditions of liver injury, HSC are important sensors of altered tissue integrity and initiators of innate immune cell activation. Vice versa, several immune cell subtypes interact directly or via soluble mediators with HSC. Such interactions include the mutual activation of HSC (towards MFB) and macrophages or pro-apoptotic signals from natural killer (NK), natural killer T (NKT) and gamma-delta T cells (γδ T-cells) on activated HSC. Current directions of research investigate the immune-modulating functions of HSC in the environment of liver tumors, cellular heterogeneity or interactions promoting HSC deactivation during resolution of liver fibrosis. Understanding the role of HSC as central regulators of liver immunology may lead to novel therapeutic strategies for chronic liver diseases.
PMCID: PMC4273119  PMID: 25568859
Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs); retinol; macrophages; myofibroblasts; liver fibrosis
4.  Simultaneous monitoring of cerebral metal accumulation in an experimental model of Wilson’s disease by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry 
BMC Neuroscience  2014;15(1):98.
Neuropsychiatric affection involving extrapyramidal symptoms is a frequent component of Wilson’s disease (WD). WD is caused by a genetic defect of the copper (Cu) efflux pump ATPase7B. Mouse strains with natural or engineered transgenic defects of the Atp7b gene have served as model of WD. These show a gradual accumulation and concentration of Cu in liver, kidneys, and brain. However, still little is known about the regional distribution of Cu inside the brain, its influence on other metals and subsequent pathophysiological mechanisms. We have applied laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and performed comparative metal bio-imaging in brain sections of wild type and Atp7b null mice in the age range of 11–24 months. Messenger RNA and protein expression of a panel of inflammatory markers were assessed using RT-PCR and Western blots of brain homogenates.
We could confirm Cu accumulation in brain parenchyma by a factor of two in WD (5.5 μg g−1 in the cortex) vs. controls (2.7 μg g−1) that was already fully established at 11 months. In the periventricular regions (PVR) known as structures of prominent Cu content, Cu was reduced in turn by a factor of 3. This corroborates the view of the PVR as efflux compartments with active transport of Cu into the cerebrospinal fluid. Furthermore, the gradient of Cu increasing downstream the PVR was relieved. Otherwise the architecture of Cu distribution was essentially maintained. Zinc (Zn) was increased by up to 40% especially in regions of high Cu but not in typical Zn accumulator regions, a side effect due to the fact that Zn is to some degree a substrate of Cu-ATPases. The concentrations of iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn) were constant throughout all regions assessed. Inflammatory markers TNF-α, TIMP-1 and the capillary proliferation marker α-SMA were increased by a factor of 2–3 in WD.
This study confirmed stable cerebral Cu accumulation in parenchyma and discovered reduced Cu in cerebrospinal fluid in Atp7b null mice underlining the diagnostic value of micro-local analytical techniques.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2202-15-98) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4156608  PMID: 25142911
Wilson’s disease; Bio-imaging; LA-ICP-MS; Copper; ATPase7B
5.  Endoglin in liver fibrogenesis: Bridging basic science and clinical practice 
Endoglin, also known as cluster of differentiation CD105, was originally identified 25 years ago as a novel marker of endothelial cells. Later it was shown that endoglin is also expressed in pro-fibrogenic cells including mesangial cells, cardiac and scleroderma fibroblasts, and hepatic stellate cells. It is an integral membrane-bound disulfide-linked 180 kDa homodimeric receptor that acts as a transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) auxiliary co-receptor. In humans, several hundreds of mutations of the endoglin gene are known that give rise to an autosomal dominant bleeding disorder that is characterized by localized angiodysplasia and arteriovenous malformation. This disease is termed hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia type I and induces various vascular lesions, mainly on the face, lips, hands and gastrointestinal mucosa. Two variants of endoglin (i.e., S- and L-endoglin) are formed by alternative splicing that distinguishes from each other in the length of their cytoplasmic tails. Moreover, a soluble form of endoglin, i.e., sol-Eng, is shedded by the matrix metalloprotease-14 that cleaves within the extracellular juxtamembrane region. Endoglin interacts with the TGF-β signaling receptors and influences Smad-dependent and -independent effects. Recent work has demonstrated that endoglin is a crucial mediator during liver fibrogenesis that critically controls the activity of the different Smad branches. In the present review, we summarize the present knowledge of endoglin expression and function, its involvement in fibrogenic Smad signaling, current models to investigate endoglin function, and the diagnostic value of endoglin in liver disease.
PMCID: PMC4050112  PMID: 24921008
Telangiectasia; Signalling; Transforming growth factor-β; Disease; Bleeding disorders
6.  TGF-β stimulation in human and murine cells reveals commonly affected biological processes and pathways at transcription level 
BMC Systems Biology  2014;8:55.
The TGF-β signaling pathway is a fundamental pathway in the living cell, which plays a key role in many central cellular processes. The complex and sometimes contradicting mechanisms by which TGF-β yields phenotypic effects are not yet completely understood. In this study we investigated and compared the transcriptional response profile of TGF-β1 stimulation in different cell types. For this purpose, extensive experiments are performed and time-course microarray data are generated in human and mouse parenchymal liver cells, human mesenchymal stromal cells and mouse hematopoietic progenitor cells at different time points. We applied a panel of bioinformatics methods on our data to uncover common patterns in the dynamic gene expression response in respective cells.
Our analysis revealed a quite variable and multifaceted transcriptional response profile of TGF-β1 stimulation, which goes far beyond the well-characterized classical TGF-β1 signaling pathway. Nonetheless, we could identify several commonly affected processes and signaling pathways across cell types and species. In addition our analysis suggested an important role of the transcription factor EGR1, which appeared to have a conserved influence across cell-types and species. Validation via an independent dataset on A549 lung adenocarcinoma cells largely confirmed our findings. Network analysis suggested explanations, how TGF-β1 stimulation could lead to the observed effects.
The analysis of dynamical transcriptional response to TGF-β treatment experiments in different human and murine cell systems revealed commonly affected biological processes and pathways, which could be linked to TGF-β1 via network analysis. This helps to gain insights about TGF-β pathway activities in these cell systems and its conserved interactions between the species and tissue types.
PMCID: PMC4049504  PMID: 24886091
TGF-β; Microarray; Time-course analysis; Gene set analysis; Clustering; Functional similarity
7.  TGF-beta1 Does Not Induce Senescence of Multipotent Mesenchymal Stromal Cells and Has Similar Effects in Early and Late Passages 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77656.
Transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-β1) stimulates a broad range of effects which are cell type dependent, and it has been suggested to induce cellular senescence. On the other hand, long-term culture of multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) has a major impact on their cellular physiology and therefore it is well conceivable that the molecular events triggered by TGF-β1 differ considerably in cells of early and late passages. In this study, we analyzed the effect of TGF-β1 on and during replicative senescence of MSCs. Stimulation with TGF-β1 enhanced proliferation, induced a network like growth pattern and impaired adipogenic and osteogenic differentiation. TGF-β1 did not induce premature senescence. However, due to increased proliferation rates the cells reached replicative senescence earlier than untreated controls. This was also evident, when we analyzed senescence-associated DNA-methylation changes. Gene expression profiles of MSCs differed considerably at relatively early (P 3 - 5) and later passages (P 10). Nonetheless, relative gene expression differences provoked by TGF-β1 at individual time points or in a time course dependent manner (stimulation for 0, 1, 4 and 12 h) were very similar in MSCs of early and late passage. These results support the notion that TGF-β1 has major impact on MSC function, but it does not induce senescence and has similar molecular effects during culture expansion.
PMCID: PMC3798389  PMID: 24147049
8.  Genetic Characteristics of the Human Hepatic Stellate Cell Line LX-2 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e75692.
The human hepatic cell line LX-2 has been described as tool to study mechanisms of hepatic fibrogenesis and the testing of antifibrotic compounds. It was originally generated by immortalisation with the Simian Vacuolating Virus 40 (SV40) transforming (T) antigen and subsequent propagation in low serum conditions. Although this immortalized line is used in an increasing number of studies, detailed genetic characterisation has been lacking. We here have performed genetic characterisation of the LX-2 cell line and established a single-locus short tandem repeat (STR) profile for the cell line and characterized the LX-2 karyotype by several cytogenetic and molecular cytogenetic techniques. Spectral karyotyping (SKY) revealed a complex karyotype with a set of aberrations consistently present in the metaphases analyses which might serve as cytogenetic markers. In addition, various subclonal and single cell aberrations were detected. Our study provides criteria for genetic authentication of LX-2 and offers insights into the genotype changes which might underlie part of its phenotypic features.
PMCID: PMC3792989  PMID: 24116068
9.  Experimental liver fibrosis research: update on animal models, legal issues and translational aspects 
Liver fibrosis is defined as excessive extracellular matrix deposition and is based on complex interactions between matrix-producing hepatic stellate cells and an abundance of liver-resident and infiltrating cells. Investigation of these processes requires in vitro and in vivo experimental work in animals. However, the use of animals in translational research will be increasingly challenged, at least in countries of the European Union, because of the adoption of new animal welfare rules in 2013. These rules will create an urgent need for optimized standard operating procedures regarding animal experimentation and improved international communication in the liver fibrosis community. This review gives an update on current animal models, techniques and underlying pathomechanisms with the aim of fostering a critical discussion of the limitations and potential of up-to-date animal experimentation. We discuss potential complications in experimental liver fibrosis and provide examples of how the findings of studies in which these models are used can be translated to human disease and therapy. In this review, we want to motivate the international community to design more standardized animal models which might help to address the legally requested replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in fibrosis research.
PMCID: PMC3850878  PMID: 24274743
Animal models; Animal welfare; Cholestasis; Cirrhosis; EU-Directive 2010/63; Fibrosis; Hepatic stellate cells; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Liver immunology; Translational medicine
10.  Cyclin E1 controls proliferation of hepatic stellate cells and is essential for liver fibrogenesis in mice 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2012;56(3):1140-1149.
Liver fibrogenesis is associated with the transition of quiescent hepatocytes and hepatic stellate cells (HSC) into the cell cycle. Exit from quiescence is controlled by E-type cyclins (CcnE1, CcnE2). Thus, the aim of the current study was to investigate the contribution of E-type cyclins for liver fibrosis in man and mice.
Expression of CcnE1, but not of its homologue CcnE2 was induced in fibrotic and cirrhotic livers from human patients with different etiologies and in murine wildtype (WT) livers after periodical administration of the pro-fibrotic toxin carbon tetrachloride (CCl4). To further evaluate the potential function of E-type cyclins for liver fibrogenesis, we repetitively treated constitutive CcnE1−/− and CcnE2−/− knockout mice with CCl4 to induce liver fibrosis. Interestingly, CcnE1−/− mice were protected against CCl4–mediated liver fibrogenesis as evidenced by reduced collagen type I α1 expression and lack of septum formation. In contrast, CcnE2−/− mice showed accelerated fibrogenesis following CCl4 treatment. We isolated primary HSC from WT, CcnE1−/− and CcnE2−/− mice and analyzed their activation, proliferation and survival in vitro. CcnE1 expression in WT HSC was maximal when they started to proliferate, but decreased after the cells transdifferentiated into myofibroblasts. CcnE1−/− HSC showed dramatically impaired survival, cell cycle arrest and strongly reduced expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin, indicating deficient HSC activation. In contrast, CcnE2-deficient HSC expressed elevated level of CcnE1 and showed enhanced cell cycle activity and proliferation compared to WT cells.
CcnE1 and CcnE2 have antagonistic roles in liver fibrosis. CcnE1 is indispensable for activation, proliferation and survival of HSC and thus promotes synthesis of extracellular matrix and liver fibrogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3396430  PMID: 22454377
cell cycle; liver fibrosis; Carbon tetrachloride; Cyclin E2; cell cycle arrest; apoptosis
11.  Regulation and Prognostic Relevance of Symmetric Dimethylarginine Serum Concentrations in Critical Illness and Sepsis 
Mediators of Inflammation  2013;2013:413826.
In systemic inflammation and sepsis, endothelial activation and microvascular dysfunction are characteristic features that promote multiorgan failure. As symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) impacts vascular tension and integrity via modulating nitric oxide (NO) pathways, we investigated circulating SDMA in critical illness and sepsis. 247 critically ill patients (160 with sepsis, 87 without sepsis) were studied prospectively upon admission to the medical intensive care unit (ICU) and on day 7, in comparison to 84 healthy controls. SDMA serum levels were significantly elevated in critically ill patients at admission to ICU compared to controls and remained stably elevated during the first week of ICU treatment. The highest SDMA levels were found in patients with sepsis. SDMA levels closely correlated with disease severity scores, biomarkers of inflammation, and organ failure (renal, hepatic, and circulatory). We identified SDMA serum concentrations at admission as an independent prognostic biomarker in critically ill patients not only for short-term mortality at the ICU but also for unfavourable long-term survival. Thus, the significant increase of circulating SDMA in critically ill patients indicates a potential pathogenic involvement in endothelial dysfunction during sepsis and may be useful for mortality risk stratification at the ICU.
PMCID: PMC3712234  PMID: 23935249
12.  Novel Bioimaging Techniques of Metals by Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry for Diagnosis Of Fibrotic and Cirrhotic Liver Disorders 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58702.
Background and Aims
Hereditary disorders associated with metal overload or unwanted toxic accumulation of heavy metals can lead to morbidity and mortality. Patients with hereditary hemochromatosis or Wilson disease for example may develop severe hepatic pathology including fibrosis, cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. While relevant disease genes are identified and genetic testing is applicable, liver biopsy in combination with metal detecting techniques such as energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) is still applied for accurate diagnosis of metals. Vice versa, several metals are needed in trace amounts for carrying out vital functions and their deficiency due to rapid growth, pregnancy, excessive blood loss, and insufficient nutritional or digestive uptake results in organic and systemic shortcomings. Established in situ techniques, such as EDX-ray spectroscopy, are not sensitive enough to analyze trace metal distribution and the quantification of metal images is difficult.
In this study, we developed a quantitative biometal imaging technique of human liver tissue by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) in order to compare the distribution of selected metals in cryo-sections of healthy and fibrotic/cirrhotic livers.
Most of the metals are homogeneous distributed within the normal tissue, while they are redirected within fibrotic livers resulting in significant metal deposits. Moreover, total iron and copper concentrations in diseased liver were found about 3-5 times higher than in normal liver samples.
Biometal imaging via LA-ICP-MS is a sensitive innovative diagnostic tool that will impact clinical practice in identification and evaluation of hepatic metal disorders and to detect subtle metal variations during ongoing hepatic fibrogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3591358  PMID: 23505552
13.  Overexpression of Endoglin Modulates TGF-β1-Signalling Pathways in a Novel Immortalized Mouse Hepatic Stellate Cell Line 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56116.
Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) play a major role in the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis. Working on primary HSCs requires difficult isolation procedures; therefore we have generated and here characterize a mouse hepatic stellate cell line expressing GFP under control of the collagen 1(I) promoter/enhancer. These cells are responsive to pro-fibrogenic stimuIi, such as PDGF or TGF-β1, and are able to activate intracellular signalling pathways including Smads and MAP kinases. Nevertheless, due to the basal level of activation, TGF-β1 did not significantly induce GFP expression contrasting the TGF-β1 regulated endogenous collagen I expression. We could demonstrate that the accessory TGF-β-receptor endoglin, which is endogenously expressed at very low levels, has a differential effect on signalling of these cells when transiently overexpressed. In the presence of endoglin activation of Smad1/5/8 was drastically enhanced. Moreover, the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 was increased, and the expression of vimentin, α-smooth muscle actin and connective tissue growth factor was upregulated. Endoglin induced a slight increase in expression of the inhibitor of differentiation-2 while the amount of endogenous collagen type I was reduced. Therefore, this profibrogenic cell line with hepatic stellate cell origin is not only a promising novel experimental tool, which can be used in vivo for cell tracing experiments. Furthermore it allows investigating the impact of various regulatory proteins (e.g. endoglin) on profibrogenic signal transduction, differentiation and hepatic stellate cell biology.
PMCID: PMC3577806  PMID: 23437087
14.  Deficiency in four and one half LIM domain protein 2 (FHL2) aggravates liver fibrosis in mice 
BMC Gastroenterology  2013;13:8.
Four and one half LIM domain protein 2 (FHL2) has been reported to be a key regulator in many cellular processes being associated with fibrogenesis such as cell migration and contraction. Moreover, hepatic FHL2 is involved in regulation pathways mediating proliferation and cell death machineries. We here investigated the role of FHL2 in the setting of experimental and clinical liver fibrosis.
FHL2−/− and wild type (wt) mice were challenged with CCl4. Fibrotic response was assessed by quantitative real time PCR (qRT-PCR) of fibrotic marker genes, measurement of hydroxyproline content and histological methods. Murine FHL2−/− and hepatic stellate cells (HSC) were isolated and investigated via immunofluorescence. Human fibrotic and normal liver samples were analysed immunohistochemically using antibodies directed against FHL2.
FHL2−/− mice displayed aggravated liver fibrosis compared to wt mice. However, immunofluorescence revealed no significant morphological changes in cultured FHL2−/− and wt myofibroblasts (MFB). In human liver samples, FHL2 was strongly expressed both in the nucleus and cytoplasm in MFB of fibrotic livers. In contrast, FHL2 expression was absent in normal liver tissue.
Deficiency of FHL2 results in aggravation of murine liver fibrosis. In human liver samples, FHL2 is expressed in activated HSCs and portal fibroblasts in human fibrotic livers, pointing to a central role of FHL2 for human hepatic fibrogenesis as well.
PMCID: PMC3562203  PMID: 23311569
15.  Expression analysis of inflammasomes in experimental models of inflammatory and fibrotic liver disease 
During inflammation, the inflammasomes representing a group of multi-protein complexes trigger the biological maturation of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1β and interleukin-18 by proteolytic activation of caspase-1 from its inactive proforms. The individual genes encoding components of the inflammasome machinery are regulated at transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. Once activated, they drive a wide variety of cellular responses that are necessary to mediate host defense against microbial pathogens and to guarantee tissue homeostasis. In the present work, we have studied the expression of the different inflammasomes in various primary hepatic cell subpopulations, in models of acute inflammation and during experimental liver fibrogenesis. We demonstrate that NLRP-1, NLRP-3 and AIM2 are prominently expressed in Kupffer cells and liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, moderately expressed in periportal myofibroblasts and hepatic stellate cells, and virtually absent in primary cultured hepatocytes. We found that the challenge with the lipopolysaccharides results in a time- and concentration-dependent expression of the NOD-like receptor family members NLRP-1, NLRP-3 and NLRC4/NALP4 in cultured hepatic stellate cells and a strong transcriptional activation of NLRP-3 in hepatocytes. Moreover, we detect a diverse regulatory network of the different inflammasomes in the chosen experimental models of acute and chronic liver insult suggesting that the various inflammasomes might contribute simultaneously to the outcome of inflammatory and fibrotic liver insult, irrespectively of the underlying inflammatory stimulus.
PMCID: PMC3599703  PMID: 23192004
Hepatic inflammation; Inflammasome; Animal models; Hepatocytes; Hepatic stellate cells; Kupffer cells
16.  Elevated circulating soluble interleukin-2 receptor in patients with chronic liver diseases is associated with non-classical monocytes 
BMC Gastroenterology  2012;12:38.
The soluble interleukin-2 receptor (sIL-2R, sIL2R, sTAC, sCD25) is a reliable biomarker for disease activity in inflammatory disorders such as sarcoidosis. Based on the essential pathogenic role of inflammation for progression of liver diseases, we hypothesized that sIL-2R might be an indicator of inflammatory cell activation and disease severity in patients with chronic liver diseases (CLD).
We measured sIL-2R serum levels in 71 patients with different stages and etiologies of CLD in comparison to 41 healthy controls. Serum sIL-2R concentrations were correlated with laboratory markers of liver diseases, cytokine / chemokine levels and circulating immune cell subpopulations as simultaneously assessed by FACS analysis from peripheral leukocytes.
CLD patients showed significantly elevated serum sIL-2R levels compared with controls. sIL-2R was significantly higher in patients with compared to patients without established liver cirrhosis and increased with the Child-Pugh stage of cirrhosis, independent of the underlying etiology. sIL-2R levels correlated inversely with parameters indicating the hepatic biosynthetic capacity, such as albumin or international normalized ratio, and positively with non-invasive markers of liver fibrosis such as hyaluronic acid or procollagen-III-peptide. Circulating immune cells might represent a major source of sIL-2R. In fact, sIL2-R levels correlated closely with circulating monocytes, especially non-classical CD14+ CD16+ monocytes, which were found to express high levels of CD25 by FACS. Pro-inflammatory cytokines, including IL-2, IFNγ or IL-6, and chemokines were also associated with sIL2-R. In addition, renal failure was an important confounder of sIL-2R levels independent of liver dysfunction and inflammation.
sIL-2R is elevated in patients with liver diseases and cirrhosis, is associated with circulating inflammatory cells and is increased in concomitant renal failure. These data indicate that sIL-2R might be a potential marker for immune cell activation in CLD, especially for proinflammatory and profibrogenic non-classical CD14 + CD16+ monocytes.
PMCID: PMC3434055  PMID: 22530792
Liver cirrhosis; Liver fibrosis; Interleukin-2; CD25; Monocytes; Macrophages
17.  Primary Cultures of Glomerular Parietal Epithelial Cells or Podocytes with Proven Origin 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e34907.
Parietal epithelial cells (PECs) are crucially involved in the pathogenesis of rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis (RPGN) as well as in focal and segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). In this study, transgenic mouse lines were used to isolate pure, genetically tagged primary cultures of PECs or podocytes using FACsorting. By this approach, the morphology of primary glomerular epithelial cells in culture could be resolved: Primary podocytes formed either large cells with intracytoplasmatic extensions or smaller spindle shaped cells, depending on specific culture conditions. Primary PECs were small and exhibited a spindle-shaped or polygonal morphology. In the very early phases of primary culture, rapid changes in gene expression (e.g. of WT-1 and Pax-2) were observed. However, after prolonged culture primary PECs and podocytes still segregated clearly in a transcriptome analysis - demonstrating that the origin of primary cell cultures is important. Of the classical markers, synaptopodin and podoplanin expression were differentially regulated the most in primary PEC and podocyte cultures. However, no expression of any endogenous gene allowed to differentiate between the two cell types in culture. Finally, we show that the transcription factor WT1 is also expressed by PECs. In summary, genetic tagging of PECs and podocytes is a novel and necessary tool to derive pure primary cultures with proven origin. These cultures will be a powerful tool for the emerging field of parietal epithelial cell biology.
PMCID: PMC3329559  PMID: 22529955
18.  CCN3/NOV small interfering RNA enhances fibrogenic gene expression in primary hepatic stellate cells and cirrhotic fat storing cell line CFSC 
Nephroblastoma overexpressed gene encodes a matricellular protein (CCN3/NOV) of the CCN family, comprising CCN1 (CYR61), CCN2 (CTGF), CCN4 (WISP-1), CCN5 (WISP-2), and CCN6 (WISP-3). CCN proteins are involved in the regulation of mitosis, adhesion, apoptosis, extracellular matrix production, growth arrest and migration in multiple cell types. Compared to CCN2/CTGF, known as a profibrotic protein, the biological role of CCN3/NOV in liver fibrosis remains obscure. In this study we showed ccn3/nov mRNA to increase dramatically following hepatic stellate cell activation, reaching peak levels in fully transdifferentiated myofibroblasts. In models of experimental hepatic fibrosis, CCN3/NOV increased significantly at the mRNA and protein levels. CCN3/NOV was found mainly in non-parenchymal cells along the areas of tissue damage and repair. In the bile-duct ligation model, CCN3/NOV was localized mainly along portal tracts, while the repeated application of carbon tetrachloride resulted in CCN3/NOV expression mainly in the centrilobular areas. In contrast to CCN2/CTGF, the profibrotic cytokines platelet-derived growth factor-B and -D as well as transforming growth factor-β suppressed CCN3/NOV expression. In vitro, CCN3/NOV siRNA attenuated migration in the cirrhotic fat storing cell line CFSC well in line with in vivo findings that various types of cells expressing CCN3/NOV migrate into the area of tissue damage and regeneration. The suppression of CCN3/NOV enhanced expression of profibrotic marker proteins, such as α-smooth muscle actin, collagen type I, fibronectin, CCN2/CTGF and TIMP-1 in primary rat hepatic stellate cells and in CFSC. We further found that adenoviral overexpression of CCN2/CTGF suppressed CCN3/NOV expression, while the overexpression of CCN3/NOV as well as the suppression of CCN3/NOV by targeting siRNAs both resulted in enhanced CCN2/CTGF expression. These results indicate the complexity of CCN actions that are far beyond the classic Yin/Yang interplay.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s12079-011-0141-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3271194  PMID: 21748432
CCN protein; CCN3/NOV; CCN2/CTGF; Hepatic stellate cells; Myofibroblasts; Hepatocytes; Inflammation; Yin/Yang; Fibrosis; Animal models
19.  Human intestinal acyl-CoA synthetase 5 is sensitive to the inhibitor triacsin C 
AIM: To investigate whether human acyl-CoA synthetase 5 (ACSL5) is sensitive to the ACSL inhibitor triacsin C.
METHODS: The ACSL isoforms ACSL1 and ACSL5 from rat as well as human ACSL5 were cloned and recombinantly expressed as 6xHis-tagged enzymes. Ni2+-affinity purified recombinant enzymes were assayed at pH 7.5 or pH 9.5 in the presence or absence of triacsin C. In addition, ACSL5 transfected CaCo2 cells and intestinal human mucosa were monitored. ACSL5 expression in cellular systems was verified using Western blot and immunofluorescence. The ACSL assay mix included TrisHCl (pH 7.4), ATP, CoA, EDTA, DTT, MgCl2, [9,10-3H] palmitic acid, and triton X-100. The 200 μL reaction was initiated with the addition of solubilized, purified recombinant proteins or cellular lysates. Reactions were terminated after 10, 30 or 60 min of incubation with Doles medium.
RESULTS: Expression of soluble recombinant ACSL proteins was found after incubation with isopropyl beta-D-1-thiogalactopyranoside and after ultracentrifugation these were further purified to near homogeneity with Ni2+-affinity chromatography. Triacsin C selectively and strongly inhibited recombinant human ACSL5 protein at pH 7.5 and pH 9.5, as well as recombinant rat ACSL1 (sensitive control), but not recombinant rat ACSL5 (insensitive control). The IC50 for human ACSL5 was about 10 μmol/L. The inhibitory triacsin C effect was similar for different incubation times (10, 30 and 60 min) and was not modified by the N- or C-terminal location of the 6xHis-tag. In order to evaluate ACSL5 sensitivity to triacsin C in a cellular environment, stable human ACSL5 CaCo2 transfectants and mechanically dissected normal human intestinal mucosa with high physiological expression of ACSL5 were analyzed. In both models, ACSL5 peak activity was found at pH 7.5 and pH 9.5, corresponding to the properties of recombinant human ACSL5 protein. In the presence of triacsin C (25 μmol/L), total ACSL activity was dramatically diminished in human ACSL5 transfectants as well as in ACSL5-rich human intestinal mucosa.
CONCLUSION: The data strongly indicate that human ACSL5 is sensitive to triacsin C and does not compensate for other triacsin C-sensitive ACSL isoforms.
PMCID: PMC3235631  PMID: 22171129
Acyl-CoA synthetase 5; Fatty acid metabolism; Mitochondria; Triacsin C
20.  Recombinant Expression, Purification, and Functional Characterisation of Connective Tissue Growth Factor and Nephroblastoma-Overexpressed Protein 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e16000.
The CCN family of proteins, especially its prominent member, the Connective tissue growth factor (CTGF/CCN2) has been identified as a possible biomarker for the diagnosis of fibrotic diseases. As a downstream mediator of TGF-β1 signalling, it is involved in tissue scarring, stimulates interstitial deposition of extracellular matrix proteins, and promotes proliferation of several cell types. Another member of this family, the Nephroblastoma-Overexpressed protein (NOV/CCN3), has growth-inhibiting properties. First reports further suggest that these two CCN family members act opposite to each other in regulating extracellular matrix protein expression and reciprocally influence their own expression when over-expressed. We have established stable HEK and Flp-In-293 clones as productive sources for recombinant human CCN2/CTGF. In addition, we generated an adenoviral vector for recombinant expression of rat NOV and established protocols to purify large quantities of these CCN proteins. The identity of purified human CCN2/CTGF and rat CCN3/NOV was proven by In-gel digest followed by ESI-TOF/MS mass spectrometry. The biological activity of purified proteins was demonstrated using a Smad3-sensitive reporter gene and BrdU proliferation assay in permanent cell line EA•hy 926 cells. We further demonstrate for the first time that both recombinant CCN proteins are N-glycosylated.
PMCID: PMC3012735  PMID: 21209863
21.  Fatty acid binding receptors in intestinal physiology and pathophysiology 
Free fatty acids are essential dietary components and recognized as important molecules in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis. In the last decade, the molecular pathways for free fatty acid sensing in the gastrointestinal tract have been further elucidated by molecular identification and functional characterization of fatty acid binding receptors. These sensing molecules belong to the family of G protein-coupled receptors. In the intestine, four important receptors have been described so far. They differ in molecular structure, ligand specificity, expression pattern, and functional properties. In this review, an overview of intestinal fatty acid binding receptors and their role in intestinal physiology and pathophysiology is given.
PMCID: PMC3097959  PMID: 21607156
G protein; Intestine; Free fatty acid; Receptor
22.  Antagonism of the chemokine Ccl5 ameliorates experimental liver fibrosis in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2010;120(11):4129-4140.
Activation of hepatic stellate cells in response to chronic inflammation represents a crucial step in the development of liver fibrosis. However, the molecules involved in the interaction between immune cells and stellate cells remain obscure. Herein, we identify the chemokine CCL5 (also known as RANTES), which is induced in murine and human liver after injury, as a central mediator of this interaction. First, we showed in patients with liver fibrosis that CCL5 haplotypes and intrahepatic CCL5 mRNA expression were associated with severe liver fibrosis. Consistent with this, we detected Ccl5 mRNA and CCL5 protein in 2 mouse models of liver fibrosis, induced by either injection of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) or feeding on a methionine and choline–deficient (MCD) diet. In these models, Ccl5–/– mice exhibited decreased hepatic fibrosis, with reduced stellate cell activation and immune cell infiltration. Transplantation of Ccl5-deficient bone marrow into WT recipients attenuated liver fibrosis, identifying infiltrating hematopoietic cells as the main source of Ccl5. We then showed that treatment with the CCL5 receptor antagonist Met-CCL5 inhibited cultured stellate cell migration, proliferation, and chemokine and collagen secretion. Importantly, in vivo administration of Met-CCL5 greatly ameliorated liver fibrosis in mice and was able to accelerate fibrosis regression. Our results define a successful therapeutic approach to reduce experimental liver fibrosis by antagonizing Ccl5 receptors.
PMCID: PMC2964968  PMID: 20978355
23.  Circulating retinol binding protein 4 in critically ill patients before specific treatment: prognostic impact and correlation with organ function, metabolism and inflammation 
Critical Care  2010;14(5):R179.
Hyperglycemia and insulin resistance are well-known features of critical illness and impact the mortality rate, especially in sepsis. Retinol binding protein 4 (RBP4) promotes insulin resistance in mice and is systemically elevated in patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes. We investigated the potential role of RBP4 in critically ill patients.
We conducted a prospective single-center study of serum RBP4 concentrations in critically ill patients. One hundred twenty-three patients (85 with sepsis, 38 without sepsis) were studied at admission to a medical intensive care unit (ICU) before initiation of specific intensive care treatment measures and compared to 42 healthy nondiabetic controls. Clinical data, various laboratory parameters and metabolic and endocrine functions were assessed. Patients were followed for approximately 3 years.
Serum RBP4 was significantly reduced in ICU patients, independently of sepsis, as compared to healthy controls (P < 0.001). Patients with liver cirrhosis as the primary underlying diagnosis for ICU admission had significantly lower RBP4 levels as compared with other ICU patients. Accordingly, in all ICU patients, serum RBP4 closely correlated with liver function and increased with renal failure. No significant differences of serum RBP4 concentrations in septic patients with pulmonary or other origins of sepsis or nonseptic patients could be revealed. Acute phase proteins were inversely correlated with RBP4 in sepsis patients. RBP4 did not differ between patients with or without obesity or preexisting diabetes. However, serum RBP4 levels correlated with endogenous insulin secretion (C-peptide) and insulin resistance (HOMA index). Low serum RBP4 upon admission was an adverse predictor of short-term survival in the ICU, but was not associated with overall survival during long-term follow-up.
Serum RBP4 concentrations are significantly reduced in critically ill patients. The strong associations with hepatic and renal function, insulin resistance and acute mortality collectively suggest a role of RBP4 in the pathogenesis of critical illness, possibly as a negative acute phase reactant, and allow a proposition as a potential novel biomarker for ICU patients.
PMCID: PMC3219283  PMID: 20932285
24.  Relevance of Serum Leptin and Leptin-Receptor Concentrations in Critically Ill Patients 
Mediators of Inflammation  2010;2010:473540.
The adipocyte-derived cytokine leptin was implicated to link inflammation and metabolic alterations. We investigated the potential role of leptin components in critically ill patients, because systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, and hyperglycemia are common features of critical illness. Upon admission to Medical Intensive Care Unit (ICU), free leptin and soluble leptin-receptor serum concentrations were determined in 137 critically ill patients (95 with sepsis, 42 without sepsis) and 26 healthy controls. Serum leptin or leptin-receptor did not differ between patients or controls and were independent of sepsis. However, serum leptin was closely associated with obesity and diabetes and clearly correlated with markers of metabolism and liver function. Leptin-receptor was an unfavourable prognostic indicator, associated with mortality during three years follow-up. Our study indicates a functional role of leptin in the pathogenesis of severe illness and emphasizes the impact of complex metabolic alterations on the clinical outcome of critically ill patients.
PMCID: PMC2943118  PMID: 20871818
25.  Interleukin-27 acts on hepatic stellate cells and induces signal transducer and activator of transcription 1-dependent responses 
Interleukin (IL)-27 is a cytokine belonging to the IL-6/IL-12 cytokine family that is secreted by activated macrophages and dendritic cells and which strongly acts on T-cells and cells of the innate immune system. Not much is known about possible effects of IL-27 on other cell types. It signals via the common IL-6-type-cytokine receptor chain gp130 and the IL-27-specific chain WSX-1. We previously described that IL-27 also stimulates hepatoma cells and primary hepatocytes. The aim of this study was to investigate whether IL-27 would also act on hepatic stellate cells (HSC), the second most abundant hepatic cell type, which would demonstrate a more general role of this cytokine in the liver.
Using a human HSC line and primary rat HSC we investigated the signalling characteristics of IL-27 in these cells. We show that IL-27 activates signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) 1 and to a minor extent STAT3 in a human HSC cell line and that it leads to the induction of STAT1 target genes such as interferon response factor-1, myxovirus resistance A and STAT1 itself. Similarly we find that IL-27 also elicits STAT1-dependent responses in primary rat HSC.
We provide the first evidence for a function of IL-27 in HSC and show that its responses resemble Interferon-γ-like functions in these cells. Our data suggests that IL-27 may play an important role in the context of liver inflammation by acting on the different liver cell types.
PMCID: PMC2931529  PMID: 20719000

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