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J Biol Chem. 2006 Jun 2;281(22):15090-8. Epub 2006 Feb 17.

Halofuginone induces matrix metalloproteinases in rat hepatic stellate cells via activation of p38 and NFkappaB.

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  • 1Department of Medicine I, University of Erlangen-Nuernberg, 91054 Erlangen, Germany.


The semisynthetic plant alkaloid halofuginone (HAL) was reported to prevent and partly reverse experimental liver fibrosis. However, its mechanisms of action are poorly understood. We therefore aimed to determine the antifibrotic potential of HAL and to characterize involved signal transduction pathways in hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Results were compared with its in vivo effects in a rat model of reversal of established liver fibrosis induced by thioacetamide. In vitro HAL inhibited HSC proliferation and migration dose dependently at submicromolar concentrations. HAL (200 nm) up-regulated matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-3 and MMP-13 expression between 10- and 50-fold, resulting in a 2- to 3-fold increase of interstitial collagenase activity. Procollagen alpha1(I) and MMP-2 transcript levels were suppressed 2- to 3-fold, whereas expression of other profibrogenic mRNAs remained unaffected. p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38 MAPK) and nuclear factor kappaB(NFkappaB) pathways were activated by HAL, and specific inhibitors of p38 MAPK and NFkappaB dose dependently inhibited MMP-13 induction. Treatment with HAL did not affect HSC viability, and observed effects were reversible after its removal. In vivo HAL up-regulated MMP-3 and -13 mRNA expression 1.5- and 2-fold, respectively, in cirrhotic rats, whereas tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 was suppressed by 50%. In conclusion, submicromolar concentrations of HAL inhibit HSC proliferation and migration and up-regulate their expression of fibrolytic MMP-3 and -13 via activation of p38 MAPK and NFkappaB. The remarkable induction of MMP-3 and -13 makes HAL a promising agent for antifibrotic combination therapies.

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