Modulation of prosurvival signaling in fibroblasts by a protein kinase inhibitor protects against fibrotic tissue injury

Ragini Vittal, Jeffrey C Horowitz, Bethany B Moore, Hengmin Zhang, Fernando J Martinez, Galen B Toews, Theodore J Standiford, Victor J Thannickal
American Journal of Pathology 2005, 166 (2): 367-75
Progressive fibrotic diseases involving diverse organ systems are associated with the persistence of fibroblasts/myofibroblasts in injured tissues. Activation of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and protein kinase B (PKB/Akt) by transforming growth factor-beta1 mediate stable induction of myofibroblast differentiation and survival. In this report, we demonstrate that transforming growth factor-beta1-induced activation of both PKB/Akt and FAK are dose dependently inhibited by the protein kinase inhibitor, AG1879, in cultured human lung fibroblasts. In a murine model of intratracheal bleomycin-induced lung fibrosis, regions of active fibrogenesis demonstrate elevated expression of PKB/Akt and FAK phosphorylation in vivo, effects that are attenuated in mice receiving daily intraperitoneal injections of AG1879 (bleomycin-AG1879) versus a chemically inactive analog (bleomycin-control). PKB/Akt and FAK phosphorylation are elevated in fibroblasts isolated from lungs of bleomycin-injured mice, effects that are inhibited in bleomycin-AG1879 mice. Accumulation of alpha-smooth muscle actin-expressing myofibroblasts is markedly reduced in lungs of bleomycin-AG1879 mice. The numbers of recruited inflammatory cells were not significantly different between these groups. Bleomycin-AG1879 mice are protected from lung fibrosis as evidenced by histopathology, trichrome staining, and biochemical analysis for collagen. Thus, targeting of prosurvival signaling pathways in fibroblasts/myofibroblasts may provide a novel and effective strategy for anti-fibrotic therapy of treatment-unresponsive fibrotic disorders.

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