Imbalance of Wnt/Dkk negative feedback promotes persistent activation of pancreatic stellate cells in chronic pancreatitis

Yanling Hu, Rong Wan, Ge Yu, Jie Shen, Jianbo Ni, Guojian Yin, Miao Xing, Congying Chen, Yuting Fan, Wenqin Xiao, Gang Xu, Xingpeng Wang, Guoyong Hu
PloS One 2014, 9 (4): e95145
The role of persistent activation of pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) in the fibrosis associated with chronic pancreatitis (CP) is increasingly being recognized. Recent studies have shown that Wnt signaling is involved in the development of fibrosis in multiple organs, however, the role of specific Wnts in pancreatic fibrosis remains unknown. We investigated the role of Wnt signaling during PSC activation in CP and the effect of β-catenin inhibition and Dickkopf-related protein 1 (Dkk1) restoration on the phenotype of PSCs. CP was induced in mice by repetitive caerulein injection and mouse PSCs were isolated and activated in vitro. The expression of Wnts, β-catenin, secreted frizzled-related proteins (sFRPs) and Dkks was analyzed by quantitative RT-PCR and western blotting. The canonical Wnt signaling pathway was examined by immunofluorescence and western blot detection of nuclear β-catenin expression. The effect of recombinant mouse Dkk-1 (rmDkk-1) on cell proliferation and apoptosis was assessed by flow cytometry, immunofluorescence, immunocytochemistry and Cell Counting Kit-8 (CCK-8) analysis. The expression of β-catenin, collagen1α1, TGFβRII, PDGFRβ and α-SMA in PSCs treated with different concentrations of rmDkk-1 or siRNA against β-catenin was determined by quantitative RT-PCR and western blotting. Wnt2 was the only Wnt whose expression was significantly upregulated in response to PSC activation, and Wnt2 and β-catenin protein levels were significantly increased in the pancreas of CP mice, whereas Dkk-1 expression was evidently decreased. Nuclear β-catenin levels were markedly increased in activated PSCs, and rmDkk-1 suppressed the nuclear translocation of β-catenin and the proliferation and extracellular matrix production of PSCs through the downregulation of PDGFRβ and TGFβRII. Upregulation of Dkk-1 expression increased apoptosis in cultured PSCs. These results indicate that Wnt signaling may mediate the profibrotic effect of PSC activation, and Wnt2/Dkk-1 could be potential therapeutic targets for CP.

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