The intrahepatic signalling niche of hedgehog is defined by primary cilia positive cells during chronic liver injury

Candice Alexandra Grzelak, Luciano Gastón Martelotto, Nicholas David Sigglekow, Bramilla Patkunanathan, Katerina Ajami, Sarah Ruth Calabro, Benjamin James Dwyer, Janina Elke Eleonore Tirnitz-Parker, D Neil Watkins, Fiona Jane Warner, Nicholas Adam Shackel, Geoffrey William McCaughan
Journal of Hepatology 2014, 60 (1): 143-51

BACKGROUND & AIMS: In vertebrates, canonical Hedgehog (Hh) pathway activation requires Smoothened (SMO) translocation to the primary cilium (Pc), followed by a GLI-mediated transcriptional response. In addition, a similar gene regulation occurs in response to growth factors/cytokines, although independently of SMO signalling. The Hh pathway plays a critical role in liver fibrosis/regeneration, however, the mechanism of activation in chronic liver injury is poorly understood. This study aimed to characterise Hh pathway activation upon thioacetamide (TAA)-induced chronic liver injury in vivo by defining Hh-responsive cells, namely cells harbouring Pc and Pc-localised SMO.

METHODS: C57BL/6 mice (wild-type or Ptc1(+/-)) were TAA-treated. Liver injury and Hh ligand/pathway mRNA and protein expression were assessed in vivo. SMO/GLI manipulation and SMO-dependent/independent activation of GLI-mediated transcriptional response in Pc-positive (Pc(+)) cells were studied in vitro.

RESULTS: In vivo, Hh activation was progressively induced following TAA. At the epithelial-mesenchymal interface, injured hepatocytes produced Hh ligands. Progenitors, myofibroblasts, leukocytes and hepatocytes were GLI2(+). Pc(+) cells increased following TAA, but only EpCAM(+)/GLI2(+) progenitors were Pc(+)/SMO(+). In vitro, SMO knockdown/hGli3-R overexpression reduced proliferation/viability in Pc(+) progenitors, whilst increased proliferation occurred with hGli1 overexpression. HGF induced GLI transcriptional activity independently of Pc/SMO. Ptc1(+/-) mice exhibited increased progenitor, myofibroblast and fibrosis responses.

CONCLUSIONS: In chronic liver injury, Pc(+) progenitors receive Hh ligand signals and process it through Pc/SMO-dependent activation of GLI-mediated transcriptional response. Pc/SMO-independent GLI activation likely occurs in Pc(-)/GLI2(+) cells. Increased fibrosis in Hh gain-of-function mice likely occurs by primary progenitor expansion/proliferation and secondary fibrotic myofibroblast expansion, in close contact with progenitors.

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