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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2008 Jan;294(1):G39-49. Epub 2007 Nov 15.

Wnt antagonism inhibits hepatic stellate cell activation and liver fibrosis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Keck School of Medicine of the Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90033-9141, USA.


Activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSC), a key event in liver fibrosis, is caused by diminished adipogenic transcription. This study investigated whether Wnt signaling contributes to "antiadipogenic" activation of HSC and liver fibrogenesis. Culture-activated HSC from normal rats and HSC from cholestatic rat livers were examined for expression of Wnt, Frizzled (Fz) receptors, and coreceptors by quantitative PCR. Wnt signaling was assessed by nuclear beta-catenin and T cell factor (TCF) promoter activity. Dickkopf-1 (Dkk-1), a Wnt coreceptor antagonist, was transduced by an adenoviral vector to assess the effects of Wnt antagonism on culture activation of HSC and cholestatic liver fibrosis in mice. Messenger RNA for canonical (Wnt3a and 10b) and noncanonical (Wnt4 and 5a) Wnt genes, Fz-1 and 2, and coreceptors [low-density lipoprotein-receptor-related protein (LRP)6 and Ryk] are increased approximately 3-12-fold in culture-activated HSC compared with quiescent HSC. The nuclear beta-catenin level and TCF DNA binding are markedly increased in activated HSC. TCF promoter activity is stimulated with Wnt1 but inhibited by Chibby, a protein that blocks beta-catenin interaction with TCF, and by Dkk-1. Dkk-1 enhances peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPARgamma)-driven PPAR response element (PPRE) promoter activity, a key adipogenic transcriptional parameter, abrogates agonist-stimulated contraction, and restores HSC quiescence in culture. High expression of Dkk-1 increases apoptosis of cultured HSC. Expression of Wnt and Fz genes is also induced in HSC isolated from experimental cholestatic liver fibrosis, and Dkk-1 expression ameliorates this form of liver fibrosis in mice. These results demonstrate antiadipogenic Wnt signaling in HSC activation and therapeutic potential of Wnt antagonism for liver fibrosis.

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