Deletion of FHL2 in fibroblasts attenuates fibroblasts activation and kidney fibrosis via restraining TGF-β1-induced Wnt/β-catenin signaling

Ying Duan, Yumei Qiu, Xiaowen Huang, Chunsun Dai, Junwei Yang, Weichun He
Journal of Molecular Medicine: Official Organ of the "Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte" 2020, 98 (2): 291-307
Four-and-a-half LIM domains protein 2 (FHL2) has been proposed involving in β-catenin activity. We previously reported that FHL2 mediates TGF-β1-induced tubular epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition through activating Wnt/β-catenin signaling. However, the potential role and mechanism for FHL2 in TGF-β1-induced fibroblast activation and kidney fibrosis remains unknown. Here, we initially observed higher levels of FHL2 expression in fibrotic kidneys from both patients and mice, especially in α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA)-positive cells in the interstitium. In cultured interstitial fibroblasts, FHL2 expression was induced by TGF-β1. Knockdown of FHL2 remarkably suppressed TGF-β1-induced α-SMA, type I collagen, and fibronectin expression, while overexpression of FHL2 was sufficient to activate fibroblasts. In mice, fibroblast-specific deletion of FHL2 diminished renal induction of α-SMA, type I collagen, and fibronectin and interstitial extracellular matrix deposition at 2 weeks after ureteral obstruction. We next investigated Wnt/β-catenin activity and found that β-catenin was activated in most FHL2-positive cells in renal interstitium from mice with obstructive nephropathy. In vitro, TGF-β1 induced a physical interaction between FHL2 and β-catenin, especially in the nucleus. Downregulation of FHL2 inhibited TGF-β1-induced active β-catenin upregulation, β-catenin nuclear translocation, and β-catenin-mediated transcription, whereas overexpression of FHL2 was able to activate Wnt/β-catenin signaling. FHL2 overexpression-induced β-catenin-mediated gene transcription could be hindered by ICG-001, but FHL2 overexpression-induced upregulation of active β-catenin could not be. Collectively, this study reveals that the signal regulatory effect of FHL2 on β-catenin plays an important role in TGF-β1-induced fibroblast activation and kidney fibrosis.

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