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PLoS Pathog. 2010 Nov 4;6(11):e1001170. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1001170.

Human cytomegalovirus induces TGF-β1 activation in renal tubular epithelial cells after epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is associated epidemiologically with poor outcome of renal allografts due to mechanisms which remain largely undefined. Transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), a potent fibrogenic cytokine, is more abundant in rejecting renal allografts that are infected with either HCMV or rat CMV as compared to uninfected, rejecting grafts. TGF-β1 induces renal fibrosis via epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of renal epithelial cells, a process by which epithelial cells acquire mesenchymal characteristics and a migratory phenotype, and secrete molecules associated with extracellular matrix deposition and remodeling. We report that human renal tubular epithelial cells infected in vitro with HCMV and exposed to TGF-β1 underwent morphologic and transcriptional changes of EMT, similar to uninfected cells. HCMV infected cells after EMT also activated extracellular latent TGF-β1 via induction of MMP-2. Renal epithelial cells transiently transfected with only the HCMV IE1 or IE2 open reading frames and stimulated to undergo EMT also induced TGF-β1 activation associated with MMP-2 production, suggesting a role for these viral gene products in MMP-2 production. Consistent with the function of these immediate early gene products, the antiviral agents ganciclovir and foscarnet did not inhibit TGF-β1 production after EMT by HCMV infected cells. These results indicate that HCMV infected renal tubular epithelial cells can undergo EMT after exposure to TGF-β1, similar to uninfected renal epithelial cells, but that HCMV infection by inducing active TGF-β1 may potentiate renal fibrosis. Our findings provide in vitro evidence for a pathogenic mechanism that could explain the clinical association between HCMV infection, TGF-β1, and adverse renal allograft outcome.

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