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Am J Pathol. 2004 Jul;165(1):203-17.

Targeted disruption of TGF-beta/Smad3 signaling modulates skin fibrosis in a mouse model of scleroderma.

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Section of Rheumatology, College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, 900 S. Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60607, USA.


Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) is a potent stimulus of connective tissue accumulation, and is implicated in the pathogenesis of scleroderma and other fibrotic disorders. Smad3 functions as a key intracellular signal transducer for profibrotic TGF-beta responses in normal skin fibroblasts. The potential role of Smad3 in the pathogenesis of scleroderma was investigated in Smad3-null (Smad3(-/-)) mice using a model of skin fibrosis induced by subcutaneous injections of bleomycin. At early time points, bleomycin-induced macrophage infiltration in the dermis and local TGF-beta production were similar in Smad3(-/-) and wild-type mice. In contrast, at day 28, lesional skin from Smad3(-/-) mice showed attenuated fibrosis, lower synthesis and accumulation of collagen, and reduced collagen gene transcription in situ, compared to wild-type mice. Connective tissue growth factor and alpha-smooth muscle actin expression in lesional skin were also significantly attenuated. Electron microscopy revealed an absence of small diameter collagen fibrils in the dermis from bleomycin-treated Smad3(-/-) mice. Compared to fibroblasts derived from wild-type mice, Smad3(-/-) fibroblasts showed reduced in vitro proliferative and profibrotic responses elicited by TGF-beta. Together, these results indicate that ablation of Smad3 is associated with markedly altered fibroblast regulation in vivo and in vitro, and confers partial protection from bleomycin-induced scleroderma in mice. Reduced fibrosis is due to deregulated fibroblast function, as the inflammatory response induced by bleomycin was similar in wild-type and Smad3(-/-) mice.

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