TGF-beta1 targets the GSK-3beta/beta-catenin pathway via ERK activation in the transition of human lung fibroblasts into myofibroblasts

Filippo Caraci, Elisa Gili, Marco Calafiore, Marco Failla, Cristina La Rosa, Nunzio Crimi, Maria Angela Sortino, Ferdinando Nicoletti, Agata Copani, Carlo Vancheri
Pharmacological Research: the Official Journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society 2008, 57 (4): 274-82
Transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) is known to induce the transition of human lung fibroblasts to myofibroblasts, a primary event in the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The molecular pathways involved in myofibroblast transformation are only partially identified. We found that a 24-h treatment with TGF-beta1 (10 ng/ml) induced alpha-smooth actin (SMA) expression and collagen production in human lung fibroblasts. These effects were abrogated by PD98059, a specific inhibitor of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. TGF-beta1 treatment activated the MAPK pathway, as shown by an increased phosphorylation of extracellular-regulated kinases (ERK)1/2 after 30 min of exposure. TGF-beta1 also increased the expression of the Ser-9-phosphorylated inactive form of glycogen synthase kinase-3beta (GSK-3beta), an effect that was largely attenuated by PD98059. A nuclear translocation of beta-catenin in human lung fibroblasts was observed 2h after TGF-beta1 addition both by confocal microscopy and nuclear protein analysis. At this time, TGF-beta1 also increased the total levels of beta-catenin, an effect that was prevented by PD98059. Similarly to TGF-beta1, the GSK-3beta inhibitor lithium chloride (10mM), increased the total levels of beta-catenin and promoted alpha-SMA expression and collagen production. This study demonstrates that TGF-beta1 induces alpha-SMA expression and collagen production in human lung fibroblasts via ERK1/2 activation, GSK-3beta inhibition and nuclear beta-catenin translocation. The evidence that the silencing of beta-catenin by siRNAs was able to prevent the induction of alpha-SMA expression in TGF-beta1-treated fibroblasts further supports the hypothesis of a contribution of the GSK-3beta/beta-catenin pathway in the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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